At what point does the system fail? Is it possible to pinpoint the time when a criminal justice degree becomes a total abortion, leading to the arrest and conviction of innocent people? Thousands of people are wrongly convicted each year, mostly because America is a country full of poor people who can’t afford $400/hr+ lawyers and are willing to accept unfair plea deals under pressure. The criminal justice system has become a menacing one; when the word ‘justice’ has lost much of its meaning, we have to wonder what all those people are really doing with their criminal justice degrees. Not only are thousands of innocent people currently sitting in jai, but some of the wrongly convicted have even been put to death while the real perpetrators roam the streets, free from consequences and to commit more horrendous crimes as they please. It can only be hoped that those pursuing a criminal justice degree now are doing so with a goal of making a positive change — that is, trying to ensure that the verdict of a trial depends on more than simply providing closure for a case or having someone — anyone — to blame. Here are just three of literally thousands who were allowed to waste away behind bars, punished for another person’s horrible deeds.

Ryan Matthews – Death Row

What happened to ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’? Ryan Matthews was a 17 year old high school student at the time of his arrest. When a grocery store owner was robbed and shot down, eyewitness testimony that was questionable at best ultimately condemned him. The clearly inaccurate testimony was not the most baffling part of his conviction, however. DNA on a ski mask found at the scene absolutely did not match Matthews’ DNA — but he was convicted and sentenced to death anyway. The police department seriously messed up when they nabbed this kid — all those people, qualified individuals with criminal justice degrees, stole five years of an innocent teenager’s life. Luckily for Matthews, he was exonerated at the age of 24 — but only after a Louisiana inmate was overheard bragging to his jail buddies about having committed the murder himself. Another interesting point in this case is that many people convicted of torture-murders have been convicted and sentenced to significantly shorter lengths of prison time; if you’re at all familiar with the show I Survived, you may already be aware. Featuring individuals who survived life threatening, harrowing situations, many victims of torture, rape, and attempted murder see their attackers sentenced to as little as between 15-25 years in prison. How a 17 year old was sentenced to death over inaccurate DNA in a botched robbery is baffling.

Anthony Graves – 20 Years

One thing a criminal justice degree will undoubtedly teach the student is that sometimes, clerical errors, meaningless legal jargon, and paperwork can override a person’s stark and obvious innocence. Anthony Graves was convicted of murdering a grandmother and five children, a heinous crime that saw him put on death row. Despite the fact that there was absolutely no physical evidence tying Graves to the murders, one Robert Carter’s lying testimony threw him under the bus. Carter immediately confessed to the crimes but claimed that Grave was his accomplice all along — a statement that Graves vehemently denied from the very start. After his exoneration, the prosecutor was accused of manipulating witnesses and even providing fake evidence against Graves. The prosecutor, however, blames the jury who convicted Graves. Graves was only exonerated after Carter confessed to lying about his involvement only weeks before his own execution. Graves was released and tried to make good on Texas’ policy of gifting every wrongly convicted inmate with $80,000 for every year the innocent person spent behind bars. The state tried to deny his motion based on the grounds that his release paperwork did not include the words “actual innocence.” Therein lies a giant WTF — when people begin using their criminal justice degrees to be paper-slave robots, the system has no option other than failure.

Ray Towler – 29 Years

In the 80s, Ray Towler was a 24-year-old musician who had attended art school and was talented with his guitar. Despite a solid alibi (he was home all day), a nine-year-old’s inaccurate testimony against him would condemn Ray Towler to life behind bars for the rape and kidnapping of two young children. Given that four people (incorrectly) testified to seeing Towler, the “only black person in the park”, on the day two children were raped in a secluded part of the forest beside a lake, there was more convincing evidence of his innocence. The rapist’s description, said to be a man with stubble, did not match Towler’s physical appearance — he had a full beard. There was also his alibi, confirmed by his family, which was all but completely disregarded. In his almost three decades in prison, Towler’s multiple motions for an appeal, writ of habeas corpus, and early release were all denied again and again. In jail, his refusal to stand before a group and confess the crimes he never committed lead him to be excluded from group activities. In jail, Towler spends his time creating incredibly beautiful pencil portraits, which he sells for money or other goods. When his friend and fellow inmate is exonerated from a rape he didn’t commit using (what was at the time) brand new DNA technology, Towler attempts to get the evidence from the case tested for DNA. Two envelopes mysteriously missing the evidence needed and four years later, Towler once more reaches out for help in a legal system which seems to disregard all sense of consideration and decency toward another human being. A lawyer interested in his case pushes for yet another DNA testing, which comes back showing that Towler clearly did not rape those two children. After thirty years in jail, he walks out of the courtroom a free man and gets himself what was probably the best pizza in the world.

Technology Criminal Justice Degree Gone to Waste: The Wrongly Imprisoned