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NIJ's Sentinel Events Initiative: Reducing Errors in the Criminal Justice System

NCJ Number
Corrections Today Dated: January/February 2015 Pages: 24-25
James M. Doyle
Date Published
January 2015
2 pages
This article discusses systemic error and gaps in the American criminal justice system revealed by DNA exonerations of wrongfully convicted defendants.
DNA exonerations of wrongfully convicted defendants have shone a new light on an error in American criminal justice and revealed a gap in our system's design. As discussed in the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Special Report Mending Justice: Sentinel Event Reviews (NCJ 247141), published in September 2014, some believe the criminal justice system lacks a feature that medicine, aviation, and other high-risk enterprises see as critical: a way to account for tragic outcomes and using those lessons to reduce risk of recurrence. Can the criminal justice system develop this capacity for "forward-looking accountability"? Can it accept error as an inevitable element of the human condition and study known errors in a disciplined and consistent way? Can it share the lessons learned from these studies to prevent future errors? Can it focus on future risks instead of on blame for the past?