Stigma Sticks

Researchers asked university students to evaluate three groups of people: “people who have been wrongfully convicted of a crime”; “people who have been convicted of a crime that they actually committed”; and “people in general”:

The students rated wrongfully convicted people in a similar way to offenders, including perceiving them as incompetence and cold, and having negative attitudes towards them. Although the students desired less social distance from the wrongly convicted compared with offenders, they preferred to have more distance from them than people in general. And while they expressed more pity for wrongly convicted people than offenders, this didn’t translate into greater support for giving them assistance such as job training or subsidised housing. In fact, the students were more in favour of giving monthly living expenses to people in general as opposed to the wrongly convicted.

Christian Jarrett notes that “it’s unsafe to generalise confidently from a student sample,” but offers anecdotal evidence:

Consider the case of the unfortunately named Kirk Bloodsworth. In 1993, after nearly nine years in prison, Bloodsworth was a free man thanks to DNA testing that showed he was not guilty of raping and killing a nine-year-old girl – the first time the scientific technique had been used in this way. Yet despite his release, Bloodsworth continued to be vilified, including having “child killer” scrawled in dirt on his truck.

Bloodsworth, a former Marine, talks about that incident and others in the above video.