Two Chicago men will join billions of other human beings Monday in celebrating a new year: They will also mark their first Christmas out of prison in more than 40 years.

Jimmy Soto, 62, was freed 11 days before Christmas after 42 years in prison for a 1982 double murder he did not commit. Two days later, Brian Beals 57, was released after being wrongly imprisoned 35 years in the 1988 killing of a 6-year-old child while he was a 22year-old college student.

Some of the victims of police and prosecutorial misconduct, false or misguided victim testimony and outright racism spent even longer behind bars than Soto and Beals.

Glynn Simmons was freed in July after an Oklahoma judge dismissed a murder conviction. Simmons, 71, had been locked up for more than 48 years – the longest ever for someone convicted and then freed.

Vincent Simmons, 71, convicted of two counts of attempted aggravated rape in Louisiana in 1977, was sentenced to 100 years in prison. He was released in 2022 after 44 years.

Kevin Strickland, 62, of Missouri, was released in 2021 after serving 43 years of a life sentence for murder. Leroy Evans, 64, of Philadelphia was freed in 2022 after 41 years. Maurice Hastings, 69, of Louisiana, locked up for 38 years, was released in 2022.

Thomas Raynard James, 55, of Miami, spent 32 years in prison on a murder conviction before being freed. MiamiDade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced that prosecutors reviewed his case and concluded he had not shot the victim, Local 10 re. ported.

Many others across the nation convicted of crimes they did not commit spent more than 20 years behind bars before they were released.

Several spent years in prison before being executed despite being probably innocent. They total 1,582 since the U.S. Supreme Court restored capital punishment in 1976, the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) reported. It pointed to 20 cases “with strong evidence of innocence.” Texas topped the list with 10, followed by Georgia, three; Alabama and Missouri, two each; and Florida, Tennessee and Virginia, one each.

Eight of those 20 – 40 percent – were African Americans: all three in Georgia, two in Alabama and one each in Florida, Missouri and Texas. The Floridian, Leo Jones, was convicted in 1981 and executed in 1998. He was accused of killing a police officer in Jacksonville, confessed after “several hours of police interrogation but he later claimed the confession was coerced.” The DPIC reported. “Many witnesses came forward pointing to another suspect in the case.”

A National Registry of Exonerations study found that, as of September 2022, 3,248 people were exonerated since 1989, compared to 1,900 since 2017. They included many innocent African Americans convicted of rape after being misidentified by European American victims. There were two and a half times as many exonerations – 554 compared to 221 — including those exonerated on drug charges, who were “overwhelmingly” African Americans. Also, African Americans were “wrongfully convicted of drug crimes by systematic practices of misconduct by police officers.”

The Registry is a project of the University of California at Irvine’s Newkirk Center for Science & Society, the University of Michigan Law School and the Michigan State University’s College of Law, Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States.

“Black people are 13.6 percent of the American population but 53 percent of the 3,200 exonerations,” the Registry reported. Also: “Judging from exonerations, innocent Black Americans are seven times more likely than white Americans to be falsely convicted of serious crimes. We see this racial disparity, in varying degrees, for all major crime categories, except white collar crime.”

Also: “Innocent Black people are about seven and a half times more likely to be convicted of murder than innocent White people. That applies equally to those who are sentenced to death and those who are not.” And about 13 percent of murders by African Americans have European American victims but twice as many – 26 percent – of African Americans who were exonerated had been convicted of killing European Americans.

The number of murder exonerations has been increasing “and many of the recent exonerees are Black murder defendants who spent decades in prison,” The Registry reported. “Most of these long-serving Black murder defendants were exonerated by a handful of bigcity prosecutorial integrity units.”

News reports indicate that such units and innocence projects in many states have helped secure the exonerations.

The racial disparity exists also in rape and drug crimes which also carry heavy penalties.

“Innocent Black people are almost eight times more likely than white people to be falsely convicted of rape,” the Registry reported. “A prisoner serving time for sexual assault is more than three times more likely to be innocent if he is Black than if he is white. The major cause of this huge racial disparity is the high danger of misidentification of Black suspects by white victims of violent crimes. Assaults on white women by Black men are a small minority of all sexual assaults but nearly half of sexual assaults with eyewitness misidentifications that led to exoneration.”

On drugs, 69 percent of those exonerated are African Americans and 16 percent are European Americans, the Registry reported. “That means that innocent Black people are 19 times more likely to be convicted of drug crimes than innocent whites – a much larger disparity than we see for murder and rape – despite the fact that white and Black Americans use illegal drugs at similar rates.” Als, “because drug crimes are almost never reported to police, the police choose who to pursue for drug offenses – and they choose to stop, search and arrest Black people several times more often than whites. That’s racial profiling.”

The Center for Law and Justice notes that the United States has five percent of the world population but 25 percent of its prisoners – about 2.4 million people – reflecting a more than 500 percent increase over the past 30 years. African Americas and other non-European Americans account for 60 percent of those prisoners. One in eight African American men in his 20s is locked up on any given day and 13 percent of African American men cannot vote because of it.

Then there is felony murder, which the New Yorker describes as “a sweeping and uniquely American legal doctrine, often couched in terms of justice for victims’ families . . . To engage in unlawful activities, the theory goes, is to assume full responsibility if a death occurs – regardless of intent.” That idea was first proposed in 1716 by British legal theorist William Hawkins.

The New Yorker cites the case of Sadik Baxter of Florida. He was breaking into parked cars looking for loose change and other items. Police arrived and he surrendered but his friend O’Brian Oakley sped off in his car and killed two bicyclists. Even though Baxter was handcuffed and in police custody at the time, both he and Oakley were charged with two counts of firstdegree felony murder, punishable by life in prison without parole. He was found guilty.

New Yorker reporter Sarah Stillman reported that data from 11 states showed “that racial disparities for felony murder convictions were higher – sometimes far higher – than the already disproportionate rates of Black incarceration all over.”

Stillman found that nearly 1,000 people were serving life or life without parole for felony murder in Florida and it is “one of more than 20 states in which the law routinely strips judges of their discretion in sentencing those convicted on the charge. In many cases, a judge’s only option is mandatory life.”

In Wisconsin, for example, African Americans are less than 7 percent of the population but “the data show that they make up 76 percent of those incarcerated for felony murder. In St. Louis, every felony murder conviction between 2010 and 2022 – a total of 47 people, according to the State of Missouri – was a Black person.”

Tell this to those who claim that the criminal justice system is not racist.