Big Perks to Jail Informants Yield Wrongful Convictions

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If you’re in jail, informing on fellow inmates can pay. Legislators in at least four states are trying to make sure that rewarding jailhouse informants — with cash, perks or deals for freedom — isn’t leading to wrongful convictions, reports NPR. Bruce Lisker was 17 when he discovered his mother murdered in her suburban Los Angeles home. It took investigators less than an hour to zero in on him as a suspect. It took 26 years for a court to determine that they were mistaken. A key piece of evidence used to convict Lisker was testimony from a savvy jailhouse informant, whom he met after being moved out of juvenile detention. “I was placed in what later came to be known as the snitch tank,” Lisker says.

A grand jury investigation found that the so-called “snitch tank” of 1980s LA was designed to give seasoned informants access to naive inmates. In this case, a man got a reduction in his sentence by saying Lisker confessed to him. Inmates trade information for rewards, sometimes big ones. Two Southern California tipsters pulled in more than $300,000 between 2011 and 2015 informing on fellow inmates. California Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer believes the kickbacks can distort the truth. “I’m concerned about the veracity of the information. I might incriminate you at $100,000 dollars a year. That could be a sideline business in prison,” says Jones-Sawyer, who wants to limit the cash or perks paid per case to $100. “It’s the taxpayers’ money. And that’s where I’m really concerned that we set an equitable number and that we don’t exceed it,” he says.

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