July 23, 2012

Blogger featured on BBC talk show on Aurora massacre

For those of you who are still tuned in to the Aurora massacre story, I was the featured expert on a BBC radio talk show today, on whether tragedies like this can be prevented. (The short answer, from my perspective, is “No”). Alongside me were the mother of a young man who was at the theater, another man from the local community of Aurora, and a survivor of the recent massacre in Oslo, Norway. We four were on similar wavelengths, but things got a bit heated when a psychologist from California called in to say that more could and should have been done to prevent the killings by the Man Who Has No Name.

To listen to the BBC's World Have Your Way segment, click HERE.

(Don’t let the 55-minute length scare you; it’s only the first half of the hour-long show.)

July 22, 2012

Aurora massacre: To speak or not to speak?

The blood on the movie theater floor was still tacky when mental health professionals began pontificating on the psychology of the mass murderer. Among the brashest self-promoters was a forensic psychologist who shamelessly asserted his preternatural ability to "look inside the mind" of the Aurora, Colorado massacre suspect.
Much of the psycho-punditry reads like it was pulled from a psychoanalytic fortune cookie:
  • James Holmes is a "deeply disturbed" individual. 
  • He may, or may not, be psychotic and delusional. 
  • He harbors a lot of rage.
Such "armchair psychology" is a natural byproduct of the news media's frenetic competition for online traffic. To object is as pointless as it would have been to stand in the killer's way and shout "stop!" as he opened fire during the Batman movie.

But some are nonetheless voicing criticism, saying it is both misleading and irresponsible to speculate at this early stage about the accused's state of mind. Curtis Brainard of the venerated Columbia Journalism Review goes so far as to call it unethical, a violation of the so-called "Goldwater Rule" of 1973. That principle cautions psychiatrists not to offer a professional opinion without having conducted a psychiatric examination and "been granted proper authorization for such a statement."

While that ethics rule applies only to psychiatrists, the American Psychological Association has a very similar one. Section 9.01 cautions psychologists to "provide opinions of the psychological characteristics of individuals only after they have conducted an examination of the individuals adequate to support their statements or conclusions."

But it is in the gray area of interpreting these ethics rules that reasonable minds differ. Indisputably, we should not attempt to clinically diagnose Mr. Holmes absent a formal evaluation. But must professionals with expertise in the general patterns underlying mass killings stand silently on the sidelines, refraining from offering any collective wisdom to the public?

As a blogger who frequently comments on breaking news stories pertinent to forensic psychology, I have often grappled with this conundrum. When the UK Guardian asked me to write a commentary on Phillip Garrido, the kidnapper and rapist of Jaycee Dugard, I ultimately decided that providing general information about the forensic implications of the case was an appropriate public service that did not violate any ethics rules.

Consider this commentary by high-profile forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner on a Washington Post blog:
Mass shooting cases have the common motive of an attacker seeking immortality. Each of the attackers have different degrees of paranoia and resentment of the broader community. Some are so paranoid that they’re psychotic. Others are paranoid in a generally resentful way but have no significant psychiatric illness. But you have to hate everyone in order to kill anyone. The threshold that the mass shooter crosses is one in which he decides that his righteous indignation and entitlement to destroy is more important than the life of any random person that he might kill. This is why mass shooting are invariably, invariably carried out by people who have had high self esteem. They are people who had high expectations of themselves. It’s not at all surprising to hear about these crimes in people who either valued their own intelligence or their own career prospects at one time. They’re people who are unfailingly unable to form satisfying sexual attachments and their masculinity essentially gets replaced with their fascination for destruction.
Now, I don't always see eye to eye with Dr. Welner, author of the controversial "Depravity Scale." But the above perspective has the potential to contribute to informed discussion of the Aurora tragedy. It doesn't matter whether every single detail turns out to be a precise fit; the comments are general enough to enlighten without stepping over the line to claim an ability to see into Holmes's troubled soul.

One could even argue that we as professionals have an affirmative duty to help offset the inane speculation that pours in to fill any vacuum in the cutthroat world of daily journalism: Portrayals of Holmes as a "recluse" and a "loner" because he didn’t converse with his neighbors; assertions that he "didn’t seem like the type" to massacre a dozen people, because he appeared superficially "normal"; simplistic theories blaming the tragedy on violence in the media or the legality of gun ownership.

Our field is positioned to help the public separate the wheat from the chaff. We can discuss the complex admixture of entitlement, alienation and despair that contributes to these catastrophic explosions. Equally important, we can remind the public that such rampages are rare and unpredictable, and that knee-jerk, "memorial crime control" responses are unwarranted and potentially dangerous. We can urge restraint in jumping to conclusions absent the facts, lest we -- as journalist Dave Cullen, author of the book Columbine, warns in yesterday's New York Times -- contribute to harmful myth-making:  
Over the next several days, you will be hit with all sorts of evidence fragments suggesting one motive or another. Don’t believe any one detail. Mr. Holmes has already been described as a loner. Proceed with caution on that. Nearly every shooter gets tagged with that label, because the public is convinced that that’s the profile, and people barely acquainted with the gunman parrot it back to every journalist they encounter. The Secret Service report determined that it’s usually not true. Resist the temptation to extrapolate details prematurely into a whole…. The killer is rarely who he seems.
But we should also recognize the limitations of our discipline’s micro focus on the individual, and encourage the public to grapple with the larger issues raised by this cultural affliction of the late-20th and early 21st century. As I commented last year in regard to the media coverage of the Jared Loughner shooting rampage in Arizona, journalists need to train a macro lens on the cultural forces that lead disaffected middle-class men -- like canaries in a coal mine -- to periodically self-implode with rage. Disciplines such as sociology, anthropology and cultural studies have much to contribute to this much-needed analysis.

The irony of the Aurora case is hard to miss. An attack in a movie theater featuring The Dark Knight Rises, a movie in which a masked villain leads murderous rampages against unsuspecting citizens in public venues including a packed football stadium and the stock exchange.

As Salon film critic Andrew O'Hehir noted in an insightful essay entitled, "Does Batman Have Blood on his Hands?":
Whether or not Holmes had any particular interest in “The Dark Knight Rises,” he saw correctly that in our increasingly fragmented culture it was the biggest mass-culture story of the year and one of the biggest news stories of any kind. Shoot up a KenTaco Hut or a Dunkin’ Donuts, in standard suburban-nutjob fashion, and you get two or three days of news coverage, tops. Shoot up the premiere of a Batman movie, and you become a symbol and provoke a crisis of cultural soul-searching.
Bottom line: The larger error is not for informed professionals to respond -- cautiously, of course -- to media inquiries but, rather, for the public to settle for facile explanations, in which calling someone crazy or disturbed is mistaken for understanding what is going on. 

POSTSCRIPT: See media critic Gene Lyons's article, linking to this post, at the National Memo. 

Related blog posts: 

July 16, 2012

Land of the Free: The best investigative reporting on U.S. prisons

by Cora Currier, ProPublica*

The U.S. has the highest reported incarceration rate in the world. We've rounded up some of the best investigative journalism on U.S. prisons and the problems that plague them. These stories cover juvenile justice, private prisons, immigration detention and other aspects of America's vast incarceration system.

Louisiana Incarcerated: How we built the world's prison capital, The Times-Picayune, May 2012

Louisiana's incarceration rate tops the U.S.'s, Iran's and China's. This eight-part series explains how it got there: lobbying from private prison companies, cash-strapped municipalities, harsh sentencing, and limited rehabilitation for those who make it out.

Moose Lake sex offender facility, Minnesota
America's Expensive Sex Offenders, Salon, April 2012

Programs that keep some sex offenders detained indefinitely after their criminal sentences are up have grown drastically in recent years, and so has their cost—“civil commitment” is on average four times as expensive as prison. But releasing sex offenders has proven politically fraught. (For a few state-by-state investigations, see these muckreads on Washington, Virginia, and New York.)

Bail Burden Keeps U.S. Jails Stuffed With Inmates, NPR, January 2010

Thousands of inmates are stuck in jail for petty, nonviolent crimes simply because they can't make bail. This NPR series showed how the country's bail system "exists almost solely to protect the interests of a powerful bail bonding industry."

What the Jail Guard Saw, Village Voice, July 2007

Some guards at New York City's prison island, Rikers, weren't just turning a blind eye to violence--they were encouraging it. The Voice has been covering the fallout from Rikers' " Fight Club" ever since, and five years later, they obtained gruesome photos showing rampant violence persists, despite the Correction Department's efforts.

Pelican Bay (California) solitary confinement,
prisoner sketch
Hellhole, The New Yorker, March 2009

Atul Gawande looked at the U.S.'s widespread use of isolation, which has ballooned in the past 20 years. At least 25,000 prisoners are now held in isolation just in so-called super-max prisons. And their minds can quickly degrade. "The experience," Gawande writes, "typically leaves them unfit for social interaction."

Why Are Prisoners Committing Suicide in Pennsylvania? The Nation, April 2012

An investigation the effects of solitary confinement on mentally ill prisoners in Pennsylvania. Also see this account from the Arizona Republic: nineteen prisoners in Arizona have killed themselves in the last two years, many of them while in solitary confinement—a widespread practice in the state.

The Devil's Playground, Westword, February 2011

Earlier this year the Justice Department laid out new rules aimed at eliminating widespread sexual abuse in U.S. prisons. This article chronicles the ordeal of one inmate who tried to report rape in a Colorado prison.

Juvenile InJustice, Richard Ross
Uncompromising Photos Expose Juvenile Detention in America, Wired, April 2012

America locks up children at a quicker rate than all other developed countries, with about 60,000 juveniles imprisoned on any given day. Photographer Richard Ross spent five years photographing the little-seen conditions inside 350 correction centers across the U.S.

For teens guilty of murder, penalties can vary widely, New England Center for Investigative Reporting, December 2011, and Direct Fail: Colorado's policy of sending teens to adult court, 5280 Magazine, December 2011

In light of the Supreme Court's decision this week  to strike down mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, it's worth revisiting these exposes of juvenile justice in Colorado and Massachusetts, two states that often sentence teens as adults.

A Death in Texas: Profits, poverty and immigration converge, Boston Review, December 2009

Privately run immigration detention facilities have proliferated along the U.S.-Mexico border. But the small towns where they're located have rarely benefited. (Such tales aren't limited to the border, as this report from Georgia tells).

Immigration prisoners, Arizona
Private Prisons Profit From Immigration Crackdown, Federal And Local Law Enforcement Partnerships, Huffington Post, June 2012

The country's two largest private prison companies have spent tens of millions on lobbying in the past decade and doubled their campaign contributions, as the government launched tougher immigration rules. Since 2005, they've also more than doubled their revenues from immigration detention.

Clarification (6/29): We've clarified this story to note that the U.S. has the highest reported incarceration rate in the world. There are a few countries—notably North Korea—for which reliable prison statistics aren't available.

*Creative Commons license; reprinted with permission of ProPublica, "Journalism in the public interest."

July 11, 2012

Brazilian prisoners riding toward freedom

Photos: Felipe Dana, AP
Brazilian prisons, criticized by human rights groups for their miserable conditions, are getting some good press this week over an innovative rehabilitation program that allows prisoners to pedal their way to freedom.

Prisoners in the small mountain town of Santa Rita do Sapucai, in southeastern Brazil, can shave one day off their sentences for every three days spent generating energy for the local township by pedaling stationary bikes.

Not only do the prisoners benefit, but so do local dog walkers, joggers, bicyclists, children and strolling couples: The generated power lights lamps along a riverside promenade that was heretofore abandoned after dark.

Lots of local citizens chipped in to create the program: A judge got the idea from reports of U.S. gyms using stationary bikes to generate energy, police contributed old bicycles, and engineers transformed them into stationary bikes and hooked them up to batteries donated by local businesses.

It's one of a series of new projects being implemented across Brazil to enable prisoners to improve their lives and health while working their way toward freedom, according to a story by Associated Press reporter Jenny Barchfield. With an estimated half a million people behind bars, the nation is also hoping to ease rampant prison overcrowding.

With one in 10 Brazilians over the age of 15 unable to read, literacy is a major focus of these rehabilitation efforts. A federal "Redemption through Reading" program allows prisoners in four federal penitentiaries to shave up to 48 days a year off of their sentences. In the labor-intensive program, a judge reads each prisoner's book report and decides on a sentence reduction of up to four days per book, for a maximum of 12 books per year. The prisons are offering similar time-reduction incentives for taking classes ranging from the elementary school to college level.

These types of educational programs are commonplace in Europe. Indeed, the European Prison Education Association sees prisoner education as a "moral right." They used to be widespread in U.S. prisons, too. But in 1994, with the elimination of federal funding for prisoner education, the number of higher-education programs in prison plummeted overnight from more than 350 -- serving about 40,000 prisoners -- to fewer than a dozen, despite their proven efficacy in reducing recidivism.

Let's hope that other countries struggling with overcrowded and dismal prisons will follow Brazil's lead and implement similar rehabilitation efforts that provide a sense of hope and some chance for prisoners to turn their lives around.

July 8, 2012

Sanity opinions show "poor" reliability, study finds

Independent evaluators agree only about half the time 

Did you hear the one about the JetBlue pilot who suddenly began rambling incoherently, bolted out of the cockit and ran through the aisles of the plane, screaming about Jesus and Al Quaeda? Not surprisingly, a judge this week found him not guilty by reason of insanity.

But insanity isn't always so obvious. In fact, the innovative team of Murrie, Boccaccini and Gowensmith -- which last year brought word of troublingly low reliability among forensic psychologists and psychiatrists assessing competency to stand trial -- has even worse tidings on the sanity front. 

Set once again in the Aloha State, the soon-to-be-published study examined 483 evaluation reports, addressing 165 criminal defendants, in which up to three forensic psychiatrists or psychologists offered independent opinions on a defendant's legal sanity.

Evaluators reached unanimous agreement regarding legal sanity in only 55 percent of the cases. The agreement rate was a bit higher, 61 percent, if one counted as agreement cases in which two evaluators shared the same opinion about sanity and the third declined to give an opinion (for example, because the defendant was incompetent to stand trial or did not want to consider an insanity plea). Either way, that's significantly lower than the rates of agreement that the team found in their previous study of competency evaluators in Hawaii. Among initial competency referrals, evaluators reach unanimous conclusions in 71 percent of cases.

The base rate of sanity to insanity opinions by the individual evaluators studied was about two-thirds sane to one-thirds insane.

Not surprisingly, evaluators agreed most often when a defendant had been psychiatrically hospitalized shortly before the offense, or when he or she had a psychotic disorder. They tended to disagree in cases in which alcohol and/or drugs played a role.

Opinions about sanity carry enormous consequences. If someone who was genuinely insane at the time of an offense is precluded from mounting an insanity defense, he or she may be unjustly convicted and sent to prison. On the other hand, a sane person who successfully fakes insanity can avoid criminal prosecution and be sent to a psychiatric hospital, where he or she may be disruptive, waste limited treatment resources, or have an unfair opportunity for early release back to the community.

At the same time, insanity is a slippery construct with many shades of grey. Reasonable experts may differ about whether a defendant meets the legal criteria for insanity at the time of an offense, for example by lacking the capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the law. It is unrealistic to expect perfect agreement among evaluators; the question is how much agreement or disagreement is acceptable to the courts. Collecting baseline data on reliability is a great first step toward more judicial and professional awareness of this issue.

Hawaii is an outlier that makes it an ideal site for naturalistic studies such as this: When the question of sanity is raised, the court solicits three concurrent and wholly independent evaluations, each with a written evaluation report.

Hawaii also provides better compensation than many mainland U.S. jurisdictions, perhaps making for a higher-quality end product. The researchers told me that an initial evaluation -- typically covering the issues of competency, sanity and dangerousness -- pays $1,000. That's not great, considering that an expert may need to invest 30 or 40 hours in a complex case. But by way of comparison, here in the San Francisco Bay Area where I am, most counties pay only $300 to $500 per evaluation. The essentially pro bono compensation encourages newbies and hacks, while discouraging highly trained, experienced and thorough forensic experts. Local judges don't seem concerned about reliability and error rates, often appointing only a single evaluator as if alienists are just interchangeable warm bodies with appropriate initials after their names.

As in their competency study, the team also examined how judges handle disagreements among evaluators. In nine out of ten cases, judges went with the majority opinion of the experts. But when judges broke with the majority, it was usually to find a defendant legally sane. "This pattern seemed generally consistent with the courts' conservative approach toward insanity cases, and the tendency for insanity pleas to fail," the authors note.

The researchers said that this is the first study to examine independent evaluations of legal sanity in routine U.S. practice. As such, the levels of agreement among forensic evaluators were "surprisingly poor," and far poorer than the field tends to assume.
[I]n light of our findings, courts should consider carefully the rationale underlying an evaluator's final opinion. Because sanity is a legal (rather than clinical) decision, courts must base their decisions on the data, observations, and clearly articulated inferences that an evaluator provides, rather than simply the evaluator's final opinion…. [T]olerating poor reliability among forensic evaluators is also costly, in that it might undermine goals of equitable justice, undermine confidence in the mental health field, and increase costs associated with inappropriate placements in hospitals, jails, or prisons.
The article, “How Reliable Are Forensic Evaluations of Legal Sanity?” is forthcoming from Law and Human Behavior. Correspondence may be addressed to W. Neil Gowensmith.

July 3, 2012

Groundbreaking research: One out of every 10 rape convictions wrong?

As a young man, Michael Jones pleaded guilty to back-to-back attempted molestations of two girl strangers. However, he adamantly maintained his innocence while in prison and on parole. He said his lawyer had coerced him into pleading guilty by threatening him with life in prison if he went to trial. Michael was one of a handful of Black people in a rural white community; both of the little girls were white. He was identified when police brought him to the station and showed him to the girls. There was no lineup procedure with foils; he was the only choice the girls were given. On the basis of his two convictions, government evaluators diagnosed Michael with pedophilia and recommended civil commitment.

As a teenager, Paul Smith tried to molest a younger boy. He was arrested at the scene and confessed. He disputed only one point in the victim’s statement: that he had threatened the younger boy with a gun. Police searched his home and found no gun. Pre-conviction polygraph testing indicated he was being truthful when he denied having a gun. Over the ensuing years, however, clinicians in sex offender treatment programs hammered at him to admit that he had used a gun. Government evaluators said Paul’s “denial” and “minimization” of his gun use influenced their recommendation for civil commitment.

In cases such as these, I am consistently struck by the naïveté of clinicians and forensic evaluators alike, who accept police reports and especially victim accounts as the gospel truth. From my former career as a criminal investigator, I can attest to the fact that even impartial observers with no conscious motivation to distort are never 100 percent accurate in describing events they have witnessed. As Daniel Schachter so clearly articulates in Seven Sins of Memory, distortion is the nature of the human animal. It is even more likely to occur in situations involving high levels of stress, fear and emotionality.

So I was happy to see that the issue of false convictions for sex offenses is getting some much-needed and long-overdue attention. Or, let me qualify that: Happy about the empirical research, but less than thrilled with a theoretical article on the psychological dynamics underlying false accusations. Let me take those up one at a time.

Dredging old cases for DNA matches

The most methodologically rigorous study to date, released in June, suggests that somewhere between 8 and 18 percent of men convicted of sexual assault may be innocent. The federally funded research project randomly sampled convictions in Virginia between 1973 and 1987, before DNA testing was widely available, and compared preserved physical evidence with the DNA profiles of convicted men.

After poring through more than half a million cases, researchers found 422 sexual assault cases in which DNA evidence was preserved. In 8 percent (33) of those cases, the DNA evidence was exculpatory and supported exoneration. Because many of the DNA comparisons were inconclusive, this amounted to 18 percent of the cases in which it was possible to make a definitive determination one way or the other based on DNA analysis. (The data and the analyses are complex and not without flaws, so I recommend reading the study itself before relying on these numbers.) Noted the researchers:
"Even our most conservative estimate suggests that 8 percent (or more) of sexual assault convictions in a 15-year period may have been wrongful. That means hundreds, if not more than a thousand, convicted offenders may have been wrongfully convicted. That also means hundreds (if not more) victims have not received the just result, as previously believed. Therefore, whether the true rate of potential wrongful conviction is 8 percent or 15 percent in sexual assaults in Virginia between 1973 and 1987 is not as important as the finding that these results require a strong and coordinated policy response."
Bennett Barbour. Photo credit: 
Joe Mahoney, Times-Dispatch
Unfortunately, the researchers ran out of money before they could do more exhaustive analyses of the cases in which innocence was suggested. In the project’s wake, the government is battling with false confession activists who want access to the data, reports the Richmond (Virginia) Times-Dispatch. Police and prosecutors want to restrict access; exoneration activists argue that people have a right to know when their DNA does not match that collected in the crime for which they were convicted.

The project has led to the exoneration of at least four men. Putting a face to them is Bennett S. Barbour, who served a prison sentence for a 1978 rape. He had moved and did not receive the 2010 letter notifying him that the DNA specimen cleared him and matched a convicted rapist instead. A volunteer lawyer finally tracked him down and broke the good news by phone 18 months later.

Research into wrongful convictions has pinpointed several leading causes. These include:
Top sources of wrongful convictions. The Innocence Project
  • False witness testimony (including mistaken identification and lying codefendants) 
  • Faulty forensic evidence (especially comparisons of hair and bite marks) 
  • False confessions 
  • Police being influenced by prior knowledge of a suspect 
  • Brief jury deliberations 
These problems are compounded by racial bias both in the criminal justice system and in society more broadly. African American men make up far more than their share of those who were convicted and later exonerated based on DNA evidence.

False accusations: A role for psychology?

Flat-out false accusations of rape -- like that depicted in To Kill A Mockingbird -- are rarely the cause of exonerations. But they do occur. Now, a prominent forensic psychology professor and his student propose 11 pathways to false allegations, and suggest that psychology could play a role in helping to sort reliable from unreliable reports. Write Jessica Engle and William O'Donohue in the Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice:
"[W]e suggest that some psychological disorders may increase the likelihood of believing a sexual assault occurred when it did not. Additionally, some psychological disorders may be related to an increase in motivation to fabricate an allegation of sexual assault in an effort to achieve what may be believed are the positive consequences of a false report…. [P]sychological evaluations may inform forensic evaluators of psychological processes by which a person may either intentionally or unintentionally file a false allegation of sexual assault."

The motivational and information processing pathways they propose lean heavily on psychiatric disorders -- including antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, psychotic disorders and intellectual disability -- as causes of false allegations. For example, here’s how they suggest that a histrionic personality style could lead to a false allegation:
"[A] person who is histrionic may, after a co-worker complements her clothing and accidentally bumps into her during the day, construe these actions as intentional communications of sexual interest. This misperception can lead her to feel that if the individual had touched her chest while bumping into her, it was an intentional action of unwanted assault. Thus, a pathway to false allegations of sexual assault may be through individuals with a diagnosis of histrionic personality disorder who for reasons of attention and misinterpretation may knowingly or unknowingly make a false allegation of sexual assault."
Okay, I’m not saying that people don’t lie, or make mistakes. Other research suggests that anywhere from 2 to 10 percent of all sexual assault reports may be false. But some of the examples provided in this article stretch credulity, and reek of sexism. I don’t know too many women, histrionic or not, who don't know the difference between an innocent compliment and a sexual assault.

A classification system based largely on pathologizing women runs the risk of reifying the mythology of so-called “rape myths,” in which only “good,” virtuous women can be raped. It seems especially problematic to disbelieve women with psychiatric problems when -- as the authors acknowledge -- they are the ones most likely to be sexually victimized.

More broadly, it is improper for clinicians to wade into the waters of truth-telling or lie detection. We weren’t there, and we don’t know what happened. It's problematic enough when we use character traits to predict the future. Stating that people (read: women) with this or that disorder are more likely to be lying or distorting reality opens the door for yet more improper use of psychiatric diagnosis in court.

Rather, as suggested by the Virginia data, we need to be skeptical at all times, and to keep our minds open to competing hypotheses based not on psychiatric stereotyping, but on the individual case facts. Maybe an assault happened, maybe it didn’t. Maybe the witnesses have their facts straight, maybe they don’t. Maybe the person who was convicted is the real culprit, and maybe he isn’t.

It’s clear that false convictions and false allegations are two separate beasts. And if that’s not complicated enough, there are true cases that are falsely recanted! For example, in a recent Welsh case, “Sarah” was repeatedly raped and forced into prostitution by her husband. When she recanted her report, she was convicted for perverting justice.

So, did Michael Jones (top of post) try to molest the two little girls? Maybe. Maybe not. The point is that we will never know for sure, and we should embrace -- rather than avoid -- that uncertainty. Present the competing scenarios, and analyze the case both ways, so that the trier of fact has all of the information.

The complexities in understanding sexual assault patterns are mind-boggling, and can make your head spin. False convictions, false accusations, false retractions. And then there's the other end of the spectrum: A vast proportion of sexual assaults – probably somewhere between 85 and 95 percent – are still going unreported altogether. And when victims do come forward, prosecution is rare, and convictions even rarer.

It's one gigantic mess, all around.

The U.S. Department of justice Study is: Post-Conviction DNA Testing and Wrongful Conviction by John Roman, Kelly Walsh, Pamela Lachman and Jennifer Yahner.