KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- An estimated 2-million Americans are serving time behind bars, and the nonprofit The Innocence Project estimates between 2 and 5 percent are there for crimes they didn't commit.
On Friday Wyandotte County leaders detailed a new effort to focus on this problem.
“The Conviction Integrity Unit is a unit that will be established here in Wyandotte County,” Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree said.
The CIU will focus entirely on reviewing cases of people who believe they've been wrongly convicted.
“The way the process has worked, people write letters indicating that they've been wrongfully convicted and then motions are filed,” Dupree explained.
On Thursday, Unified Government Commissioners voted to establish this unit and fund three staff members to focus on these cases.
A recent high-profile case saw Lamont McIntyre released from prison after 23 years behind bars for a murder he didn't commit.
“When you have the wrong person in custody, then the right person who committed the crime is still doing wrong in our community. And our job as ministers of justice is to ensure that the right person is locked up,” Dupree said.
The DA's office touts support from KCK Police, the Wyandotte County Sheriff's Office and various other community groups.
“We think that this is very important that the integrity of convictions in the past should be able to withstand the test of scrutiny and will enhance the community`s trust in the criminal justice system,” Alvin Sykes said.
Sykes is a community activist on behalf of the Emmett Till Justice Campaign. He said he’s proud of the progress happening in Wyandotte County.
“It`s very positive because it puts Wyandotte County ahead of a lot of other communities around the country who continue to suffer from injustices of not only the crimes themselves, but from having the wrong person,” Sykes said.
Commissioners approved $162,000 to fund this new unit. Most of they money will go to hiring new staff, with $7,000 set aside to create an office space.
The county will post listings for one full time and two part time staff for the CIU in the coming weeks.