True crime doesn’t reflect justice: American prision system does more harm than good


Olivia Doak

I am a true crime junkie. 
There’s nothing I love more than seeing John Quinones introduce the next episode of 20/20 or NBC’s Keith Morrison’s brow furrow as he conducts an emotional interview with the family of a homicide victim.
I’ve always been drawn in by the mystery and fascinated by the puzzle of figuring out the right verdict. I constantly watch documentaries, listen to podcasts and read about different cases. 
One of my favorite books is called “The Innocent Man,” and it’s about a man named Ron Williamson who was wrongly convicted of murdering a young woman in the 1980s. He was sentenced to death, but was eventually let off after multiple trials, thousands in legal fees and decades behind bars. 
From the moment he’s accused of the crime until his death, Williamson’s mental health deteriorates to the point where he is completely dependent on medications and never able to live a normal, independent life again. 
Williamson was in and out of psychologist’s offices and was diagnosed with manic depression, alcoholism and schizophrenia. 
He was unfit for trial, but it was never a factor. 
Williamson went largely untreated in prison, and when he was treated the guards would give him the wrong dosage for their entertainment.
While I was reading the book for the first time, I would sometimes have to put it down for a few days because I was so indignant at how horribly the justice system failed him.
It’s in moments like these when I question why I follow these stories. It’s when the brutality of the crimes catch up with me that the entertainment factor disappears and I remember the reality of the horror.
So why do so many of us have such a fascination with these kinds of crimes? Why do we find it entertaining to watch a documentary about a father brutally murdering his wife and three kids? What is the appeal of getting a peak into Ted Bundy’s mind by listening to his sick narrative on tape?
People like Ron Williamson are on death row right now. The fact that these people have been and will continue to be executed for crimes they didn’t commit is a flagrant injustice. 
But never truly knowing if a verdict is the right one is truly agonizing. Some defendants deny their involvement until their last breath, while others are manipulated into false confessions. 
Whatever the circumstances, there’s an obscene amount of people, both guilty and innocent, in today’s prisons. And usually, it’s people like Ron Williamson that are victims of an imperfect justice system because they can’t advocate for themselves. 
And once they’re in prison, all human rights are stripped away. The United States is the only democratic country with no regulations or standard codes to keep prisons in check.
Rape is rampant. Solitary confinement is commonplace. Guards beat inmates, and people are stabbed and killed within prison walls. 
And nobody talks about it.
While all this is going on, the push to put more people in prison increases, and private prisons make profit off it.
Even if they’re lucky enough to get out, the world is shockingly unforgiving to released prisoners. 
Even their most basic rights as a citizen are not fully restored. In Iowa, ex-inmates are barred from voting even after they’re released. To get that right back, they must submit an application and be re-approved by the governor.
Once they’re released, there are no resources to help people escape the situation they were in or to get a job and begin moving forward. The infraction stays with them forever.
So next time you watch a true crime documentary or listen to a podcast like “My Favorite Murder,” remember the people behind the story. Remember that some people deserve to be in prison, while others don’t. But guilty or innocent, all deserve to be treated with human decency. 
Remember that forgiveness is just as important as justice. 
But most of all, remember those who’s stories aren’t being told.