Focus: Payouts to persons freed following wrongful incarceration

The National Innocence Project notes the special “agony of prison life” for inmates who suffer wrongful convictions for crimes they never committed. The Project notes that, on average, persons who are eventually released through post-conviction DNA evidence that establishes their innocence spend 13.5 years wrongfully locked up before they are freed.

And, note many advocates of the wrongfully convicted, freedom after years of deprivation isn’t quite as sweet for many wrongfully convicted persons as it is for those who have never spent time behind bars. Education and career opportunities are forever gone. Families are often irreparably splintered. A stigma continues to attach, despite innocence.

For those and other reasons, the Innocence Project forcefully argues for prompt and just financial compensation to those who have been freed after being wrongfully incarcerated.

A recent case from Washington State underscores the issue and sad reality of persons falsely convicted of criminal charges and points as well to the remedial actions taken by some states to right the wrong.

In Washington, a state legislator was sufficiently moved by the plight of one man who spent 17 years wrongfully locked up before being released to introduce a legislative bill providing for a $50,000 payment for each year an inmate is wrongfully incarcerated. That amount would be doubled for death-row inmates.

“I can’t think of something more horrible,” said Rep. Tina Orwell, who says that her bill is both ethical and financially defensible. She says that payout amounts would pale to a large jury verdict in even one case.

The Innocence Project notes that 27 states have already passed some type of legislation on the matter. Georgia is not among them.

Federal law already mandates a $50,000 per year payment for any person wrongfully locked up in a federal prison.

Source: New York Daily News, “Man who served 17 years in prison for rape he didn’t commit inspires Washington state bill to compensate wrongfully imprisoned $50,000 per year,” David Knowles, Feb. 18, 2013