NO “CRIMINAL” HERE: A Conviction Where There Was No Crime

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Professor Jessica S. Henry tells the story of Ernie Willis, who went to death row before being exonerated on the basis that the arson for which he’d been sentenced was no arson at all. She shows that for people who are exonerated, the “criminal” label carries heavy consequences even after their names are cleared. This story serves as an example for her argument that we should stop using the term “criminal,” for several reasons. One: there’s far from complete overlap between “people who break laws” and “people who are called criminals.” Poor people and those who live in heavily policed neighborhoods are much more likely to be caught up in the justice system than wealthier people engaging in the same behavior. Second: some “criminals” are charged with crimes that never occurred at all-like Ernie Willis. Most importantly, she says, people who break laws are more than the sum of their criminal acts and are still deserving of the respect and dignity we should afford to all people.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWhat is a Criminal?
Subtitle of host publicationAnswers From Inside the US Justice System
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9781000817935
ISBN (Print)9780367770297
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2022


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