It’s also worth pointing out that while the $2.2 billion paid out was certainly important to the people who received it, that figure isn’t likely to deter future wrongful convictions. The money almost always comes from public treasuries or at least from municipal insurers, not from the public officials responsible. For real deterrence, we’d need consistent accountability for police and prosecutors whose misconduct sends innocent people to prison. Police are protected by qualified immunity. Prosecutors are shielded by absolute immunity, even in cases where they have been shown to have committed egregious misconduct, such as manufacturing evidence.
In some states, such as Tennessee, the final say over whether someone has been completely exonerated lies with the governor, which effectively politicizes the decision. Some states (again, such as Tennessee) also don’t make compensation for wrongful convictions heritable. Once the wrongly convicted person dies, the checks stop coming. This is wrongheaded for many reasons, but here are two important ones: First, every year the state denies or delays recognizing an exoneration is a year the state doesn’t have to pay out compensation. And second, the law presumes that the families and children of exonerees aren’t harmed by the wrongful conviction.
In the end, all we can really say is that while $2.2 billion is a lot of public money, it’s a sum that’s inequitably distributed, unlikely to bring much change and should be quite a bit larger.