Recent events have made clear that the criminal justice system, like all human creations, is imperfect. At every stage of a criminal case, system actors—victims, police officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges—make difficult decisions that both determine the fate of individuals and reflect the legitimacy of the system to the larger community. When the system fails, the consequences can be disastrous for both individuals and society.
One particularly vivid example of the criminal justice system’s imperfections is the recent exposure of wrongful convictions. Between 1989 and 2003, at least 328 wrongly convicted people nationwide were legally exonerated and freed from prison. In many of those cases, the wrongful conviction of an innocent person meant that a violent and dangerous offender was allowed to escape detection and remain free in the community to commit other crimes. More than half of the 328 exonerated people served more than 10 years in prison. Eighty percent served at least five years. Overall, they served more than 3,400 years, at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $85 million. Based on the number of discovered exonerations, one worries that the actual number of wrongful convictions might be much higher.
To address the problem of wrongful convictions, and other problems in the criminal justice system, the State Bar of Wisconsin, Marquette Law School, the University of Wisconsin Law School, and the Wisconsin Attorney General have created the Wisconsin Criminal Justice Study Commission. The commission is made up of well-respected criminal justice professionals from every facet of the system, including prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, police, and victim’s advocates, as well as community leaders from outside the system.
The commission members will have freedom to determine their own agenda by identifying important problems and crafting appropriate solutions. Although the commission’s work product may take many forms, it is expected that reports and recommendations will be made available to the public periodically.
Because the criminal justice system has room for improvement, the work
of the Wisconsin Criminal Justice Commission can make a valuable
contribution to the quality of justice in Wisconsin.
Click here to read the Wisconsin Criminal Justice Study
Commission's Charter Statement.