Why does Illinois have so many exonerations?

Illinois ranks third among all states in the number of people wrongfully convicted of a crime and then exonerated. Over the past three decades, 225 people in our state have been cleared of the crimes they were convicted of. Last year alone, the National Registry of Exonerations reported that 21 people were cleared of convictions for murder, robbery, drug possession and sexual assault. All but one are men.

Just last month, 18 men were exonerated because their convictions were linked to a former Chicago police officer who was found to be corrupt. The sergeant and his tactical unit operated on the city's South Side for a decade. One attorney said that members of the unit "put cases on people who didn't cooperate with their corrupt schemes, took bribes, stole money and drugs from drug dealers, and really ruined the lives of dozens -- maybe hundreds."

Another attorney, who works with the Exoneration Project and represented a dozen of these men, says that one of the reasons why Illinois (and Chicago in particular) has one of the highest rates of exonerations in the country is because there are multiple groups like his who focus on helping people in prison fight wrongful convictions. Another reason, he says, is Chicago's "horrible history of police misconduct" that has "led to an extraordinary amount of wrongful convictions."

Exoneration may happen after someone has spent many years in prison. As the Exoneration Project attorney notes, those who are eventually cleared have lost precious time with loved ones. In some cases, family members become estranged or die. They lose out on education if they were young when they were convicted. Many have difficulty finding jobs after they're exonerated. Often, they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of the violence they've witnessed or been victims of behind bars.

People in Illinois who have been exonerated can seek compensation from the state under the Certificate of Innocence law. However, how much they receive can depend on whether the state has the money to compensate them.

If you or a loved one has been falsely arrested or wrongfully convicted, it's essential to seek legal help as soon as possible. A Chicago attorney with experience in these cases can help you seek justice.

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