Carlton O. Harris, a 28-year-old roofer from Washington, D.C., was wrongfully imprisoned for 77 days, even after the misdemeanor charges against him were dropped. Harris, a father of two from Southeast Washington, was only released thanks to the actions of a fellow inmate, who alerted his own lawyer to Harris’ plight.
Harris was originally arrested on March 28th after a dispute which started in his home led local police officers to arrest him. The next day, prosecutors opted to drop the case against Harris, yet he remained in the prison unnoticed and without legal representation for over ten weeks.
“It was a clerical error by the D.C. Department of Corrections,” one law enforcement official told the Washington Post. The D.C. Department of Corrections, which is responsible for the jail in which Harris was wrongfully imprisoned, failed to offer an explanation, however.
“Due to safety and security reasons, the Department of Corrections declines to comment,” spokeswoman Keena Blackmon told the Post.
The incident deprived Harris of his liberty for over two months, and cost the city tens of thousands in administrative costs.
“They spent $20,000 to house this person for 77 days because nobody called to fetch him. Really?” William C.C. Claiborne III, a lawyer with experience in dealing with the wrongfully incarcerated who is now representing Harris, told the Post.
This isn’t the first time the District of Colombia has had serious issues with the rights of prisoners, regardless of whether they were justifiably incarcerated. In 2011, a U.S. District Judge ruled that the rights of hundreds of inmates had been violated when they were subjected to unwarranted strip searches, according to the Post.
The problem of wrongful incarceration isn’t unique to the nation’s capital, either. In 2015, 149 people were cleared for crimes they didn’t commit, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, setting a new record in a frightening tradition of putting innocent men and women behind bars.
Those wrongfully-incarcerated who the study focused on served, on average, 14.5 years in prison. Some of those wrong-fully incarcerated included citizens with mental defects who could have easily been free with the use of an inmate locator. Wrongful incarcerations like this have, for the most part, steadily increased on a year-to-year basis since 2006.
Often, the US justice system relies on procedures that ignore evidence to speed up a heavily backlogged court system. Some 95 percent of felony convictions, for instance, result from plea bargains in which no formal evidence is presented to a court, according to National Geographic.
Though his ordeal is far from over, Harris noted he is struggling to provide financially for his family after being mistreated by the government, but he remains patient that justice will be served.
“You’ve got to be patient, otherwise you’re going to work yourself into a worse position than you’re in,” Harris told the Post. “The work will come.”