Friday, January 29, 2010


I follow a group on Twitter called The Innocence Project, which states that its "mission is nothing less than to free the staggering numbers of innocent people who remain incarcerated and to bring substantive reform to the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment."

I'm cynical. For one thing, they seem to think the magic button is DNA testing. Certainly if this is done correctly, and there's a 99.999% chance that the defendant in some case was not the rapist, or whatever, well, that's a valuable tool. But science will never provide any infallible test to replace human reason and honest human desire for justice. Trial by a jury of one's peers was far more of a breakthrough than DNA testing.

For another thing, it often seems to me as though The Innocence Project is run by people whose real motive for proving convicts innocent is merely to shame us into abolishing the death penalty. I don't see a lot of value in the death penalty - but I don't believe that death is so final or terrible that it's an "ultimate punishment" either. Imprisonment, for some people, and under some conditions, becomes as bad as death or worse.

Why should I feel any more guilty for wrongfully executing a fellow human being than I would for wrongfully locking him up at Elgin Mental Health Center and forcing him to take neuroleptics?

I definitely know people who would rather die than participate in their own degradation and dehumanization at the hands of state psychiatrists. Maybe if The Innocence Project showed an interest in human dignity, beyond mere techinical biological "life", I'd identify with their cause.

But then they'd have to call for a wall of separation between psychiatry and the state. That's a hell of a project.

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