New Report Highlights Stark Racial Disparities in Prisoner Exonerations

Data Showing Innocent African Americans More Likely to be Wrongfully Convicted

Today, the National Registry of Exonerations released Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States, reporting on the sobering facts that African-American prisoners convicted of a murder are 50% more likely to be innocent than whites. Notably, the data included also indicates that African-American prisoners spend a longer time in prison ahead of exoneration. Written by Samuel Gross, a Professor of Law at the University of Michigan, along with fellow researchers, this in-depth analysis tracks exonerations for murder, sexual assault and drug crimes since 1989. Although African Americans only constitute 13% of the nation’s population, the report shows that the majority of the innocent defendants in prison are African American.

Among its many findings concerning basic racial patterns in murder, sexual assault and drug convictions, highlights from the report include:

  • Over 1,800 defendants have been cleared in “group exonerations” within the last 28 years. These exonerations followed 15 large-scale police scandals where officers systematically framed innocent defendants, of which the overwhelming majority were African American having been framed for drug crimes that never occurred.  
  • Convictions leading to murder exonerations regarding Black defendants were more likely to involve police misconduct than those with white defendants.
  • On average, Black murder prisoners who were later proved to be innocent waited three years longer in prison before release than whites.

Read the full report here.

Find out more about the National Registry of Exonerations, founded in 2012. 


Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative.