Jailhouse informants are people who provide information to authorities in exchange for a benefit such as leniency around their own sentence. It might sound reasonable to some, but it’s unregulated – and can lead to some pretty horrible problems that the public may never even imagine.
If someone wants a lighter sentence, or a privilege they wouldn’t otherwise get, they might agree to be an informant on a case – and, often, to fabricate testimony! They benefit, but this can mean wrongful imprisonment or Death Row for someone else.
But it’s not just about the informant.
By incentivising testimony, authorities encourage lying. At least 140 people have been exonerated after wrongful convictions tied to jailhouse informants in the last few decades. And that’s just the ones we know about! But this problem hurts you directly, too.
Aside from the fact that all Black people are at risk of being sucked into the prison system, and its injustices drastically impact our communities, exonerations also lead to lawsuits. Taxpayers pay for this corrupt use of informants!
Reforms aimed at strengthening reliability around informants are popping up in several states. Those may be helpful, but the apparatus that facilitates it is still intact. If we want to truly be rid of injustice, we have to challenge the entire system that inflicts it and demand an end to this practice!