The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Watkins speaks on exonerations

By Angel Carr/reporter

Face after face graced the screen as one face faded to another with the words “found not guilty” written below. The audience looked on with expressions of concern and, at times, pain. “Amen,” “mercy” and grunts arose from a South Campus audience last week.

Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins presented The Innocence Project Feb. 17 in recognition of Black History Month.

The Innocence Project of Texas works to secure freedom for people who have been wrongfully convicted of crimes.

“As I went through the education system, I took it to heart,” he said.

Since 2007, 27 convicts have been exonerated, but Watkins said he was not pleased with that number compared to the number of wrongful convictions.

Watkins shared his thoughts and his feelings about witnessing one exoneration. In 2007, Watkins had been in office only three days when he witnessed an individual freed for a crime he did not commit (which was not the first exoneration).

He recalled the case wasn’t being covered because there were no cameras or reporters in the courtroom when the man was exonerated and said that was unusual for such a news story.

Watkins said he is dedicated to live up to the responsibility of the greater good. Passion for keeping the community safe and being tough on crime has made the Innocence Project what it is, he said.

“The role of a district attorney is not to seek convictions; it’s to seek justice — underline not,” he said.

One of Watkins’ goals is to have adequate public safety to keep communities safe and to get convictions for the people who actually commit the crimes.

The criminal justice system has allowed the community to be less safe because of its wanting to get a conviction and not justice to find out who actually committed the crime, Watkins said. When individuals who commit the crimes are not convicted, they continue to commit more of the same crimes while innocent victims are wrongfully imprisoned.

“Texas has a higher prison rate than some countries,” he said. “You would think since we do have the highest population, we are getting a return on our investment.”

This investment process was broken down by how many dollars it takes per day to take care of prisoners compared to the cost of educating them. Watkins said the U.S. should make the system fair first. It takes $65 a day to house a person in Dallas County jail. It takes $35 a day for a person in prison to be taken care of and only $8 a day for education in school.

“You’d think we’d allocate our resources a little more,” he said. ”You’d think if we’re spending our tax dollars, we’d get a return on our investment.”

Watkins said the system should be smart, not tough.

“The prison system is made up of about 80 percent individuals who are strung out on something,” he said.

They are strung out, uneducated and have no skills when they go to prison, Watkins said. And after spending numerous years behind bars, they come out of prison the same way they went in — uneducated, no skills and strung out.

The goal, Watkins said, is to educate the young men and women by funding the U.S. education system. Education before prison is needed.

Funding the education system will ensure when a person goes to prison, the punishment will be hard, but he won’t come back strung out and uneducated but educated and not strung out, he said.

Change comes from places one would least likely expect it, Watkins said.

“There’s nothing to fear other than success,” he said.

Prison should have a new name — A Place of Opportunity, Watkins said.

Donate to The Collegian

Your donation will support the student journalists of Tarrant County College. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Collegian