Mistakes on Death Row

Yesterday I read about a man who had been falsely convicted of murder.  Damon Thibodeaux walked free after spending 15 years on death row in Louisiana State Penitentiary.

Now he is going to spend his time “concentrating on putting my life back together and moving forward”.  Can you imagine?

Damon is the 18th person to be released from death row in the US on the back of DNA evidence and the American Civil Liberties Union are getting vocal about it.

If we can’t figure out how to have a death penalty that doesn’t put innocent men on death row, and innocent women on death row across the country, then we don’t deserve to have it. It’s a human rights violation

No doubt they are right to get angsty.  But false imprisonment is only half the problem.

It is far worse than that…

Not only was Damon imprisoned for 15 years, the real murderer is still at large.  Two horrible mistakes

  • One man imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit
  • One man walking free for a crime he did

Two types of error, false positive and false negative.

Double trouble.  And there is the problem…

It is easy to fix one problem

  • It is easy to make sure no criminals walk free. Arrest everybody.
  • It is easy to make sure nobody is wrongly convicted.  Arrest nobody.

Fixing one problem is never too difficult, but fixing two problems puts you in a different league.

So next time you are cracking down on…

Remember the twin error.  It is every bit as nasty.

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Death Row

Image by Julian Stallabrass

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Comments

  1. Bob Corrick says:

    Uncommon good sense. Thank you.

  2. Great point showing that the obvious problem is not the only problem. Thanks for that, James.

  3. Hello James,

    Beautifully put.

    It occurs to me that in this short post you have unconcealed and made present the messiness of reality: the multidimensional nature of existence including all interventions that we make in any living system.

    It also occurs to me that you have highlighted the issue with our management obsession with efficiency. The more one focuses on efficiency (above a certain threshold) the higher the likelihood that one or more dimensions of effectiveness are being undermined. Yet, by not keeping effectiveness present we are blind that efficiency is being undermined.

    maz

    • James Lawther says:

      I hadn’t thought of it like that Maz, though I guess you are right. I suppose “efficiency” has multiple dimensions, most of which we are blind to.

  4. Great point, James. If you fixed one problem, did you create another? Did you uncover another? Did you open a can of worms? As Adrian mentions, the obvious problem is not always the obvious problem.

    Annette :-)

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