What Do We Do When It Is Broke?
I Was In Prison
Online Prison Ministry Newsletter
January 3, 2008
Dale S. Recinella, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed

What Do We Do When It Is Broke?
By: Dale Recinella

My engineer Italian father lived by the famous maxim, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”


That wisdom has stood me well over time. The saying implies a reciprocal, “If it is broke, do something about it.”

That is exactly what our Catholic Bishops in the southern U.S. mean to do through their series of pastoral letters on our criminal justice process and a gospel response, focusing principles of our faith specifically upon our geographic part of the country.

As I speak to Catholic audiences in the South, even in Florida, it is not unusual that the first issue we must engage is that old maxim quoted by my father. Many good people who consider themselves well informed simply do not believe there is any thing that needs fixing in our criminal justice system. They do not believe that police and prosecutors make mistakes or that innocent people end up in prison or on death row. Until the last few years, attempts at engaging these issues usually broke down quickly into a war of opinions between political factions. All that could be hoped for was a gentlemen’s agreement that we disagree on “the facts.” Now, that has all changed. The reason is DNA.

The U.S. has had 210 post-conviction exonerations in 31 states through the use of DNA. The first such exoneration came in 1989. Now we are averaging two per month nationwide. The average time from conviction until DNA exoneration is over twelve years. Fifteen of those exonerees had been sentenced to death or were on death row. A random sampling of DNA evidence in closed cases in Virginia showed a 6% error rate. The ways in which the system is broke are numerous.

As one reads through all the case histories on The Innocence Project website, it is bone chilling how often the real perpetrator of the crime turns out to have been the prosecution’s star witness. In 75% of the cases, mistaken eyewitness identification—usually due to sloppy or outcome oriented police procedures—is a major culprit. More than a third of the cases involve botched forensics, either accidentally or intentionally. And persistently peppered throughout are false confessions to police or testimony by third parties that the defendant admitted the crime. Bad lawyering, particularly for the indigent, and testimony from alleged co-defendants or jailhouse informants also figure prominently.

Florida has had more than its fair share of all these problems. Just over a year ago, Mr. Alan Crotzer, a 45-year-old man who had spent more than half his life in prison on a 130-year sentence for rape and armed robbery was exonerated by DNA. In August of 2006, Luis Diaz, wrongfully convicted as the “Bird Road rapist,” was shown wrongfully convicted by DNA and released at age 67 after 26 years in prison. And Wilton Dedge, was recently awarded $2.2 million by the state as compensation for spending 22 years in prison, wrongfully convicted for rape. DNA again.

Such statistics and stories are only the tip of the iceberg for the nation and our state. DNA reveals with scientific certainty that fundamental problems exist in the way we go about identifying suspects and prosecuting crimes. The result is wrongful convictions, in some cases wrongful death sentences. The number of people wrongfully in prison in Florida alone has been estimated to be at least several hundreds or as many as thousands. How do we respond?

By resisting efforts to allow and fund continued DNA testing? By raising arbitrary time limits against the use of post-conviction DNA evidence? By battling against the mandatory preservation of forensic evidence? By fighting against efforts to create a Florida Innocence Panel with plenary powers or to award compensation for wrongful imprisonment? In other words, by pretending nothing is broke?

I think not. The first thing we must do is admit that the system is broke. Then, we must muscle the Gospel courage to fix it. _____



First published: The Florida Catholic, February 17, 2006 © 2006 Dale S. Recinella & The Florida Catholic.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.

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This ezine is targeted for people involved in prison ministry or in stopping the death penalty, we think you will find helpful information for people who are undecided about capital punishment, for those who have never experienced the inside of a jail or prison, and for those who feel called to participate through prayer and adoration.

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Dale S. Recinella, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed

If you Like this Weekly Ezine - You will love Dale's Book!
Sr. Patricia Proctor
Paperback: 433 pages

Excellent book on the topic!,
June 13, 2005 Nathan Eanes
(Review from Amazon.com)

The Biblical Truth about America's Death Penalty is a must-read. It deals with Biblical standards of Capital Punishment and then compares them to the system used in America today. It is the best-researched, most faithful to scripture, and most evenhanded analysis I have ever read concerning the Death Penalty. Whatever your persuasion on the issue, this book will teach you a great deal. Recinella is a trained lawyer and committed Christian who now volunteers part-time on Florida's death row. He thus understands law, the Bible, and the system of execution in America. I challenge anyone who supports the Death Penalty to read this book.



This ezine edited by Sister Patricia Proctor, OSC - Poor Clare Sister
to support the IWasInPrison Outreach