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How Much Do Exonerated Prisoners Get : Seeking Justice After Exoneration

Each year, hundreds of prisoners are exonerated and released after it is proven they were wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit. These innocent individuals lose years, sometimes decades, of their lives due to mistakes or misconduct in the criminal justice system. The toll of wrongful conviction extends far beyond the years spent incarcerated – it can destroy families, reputations, health, and economic stability.

While exoneration and release from prison is a joyous occasion, it also marks the beginning of a difficult journey to rebuild lives derailed by wrongful conviction. Exonerees walk out the prison doors with just the clothes on their backs, lacking the resources and support systems needed to reintegrate into society. Having lost the opportunity for education, career advancement, and financial stability during their incarceration, exonerees often struggle to find jobs, housing, and health care after release. The psychological trauma of their experience also takes a heavy toll.

Push for Compensation Legislation

There is a growing movement calling for reforms to help assist and compensate exonerees to get back on their feet after release. While exoneration expunges the conviction, it does not automatically entitle one to any compensation for the years of freedom lost.

Advocates argue the government has a moral responsibility to provide reparations to these individuals that lost years of their lives due to an unjust conviction. This view holds that since the state via the criminal justice system is responsible for the wrongful conviction and incarceration, the state should also be responsible for providing compensation and assistance after exoneration.

There have been efforts at both state and federal levels to pass legislation to standardize and guarantee compensation for exonerees.

State-Level Compensation Laws

Over 35 states, as well as Washington DC, have passed some form of compensation legislation. Most laws share features such as:

  • A standardized process for filing a claim and determining eligibility
  • Guaranteed minimum level of compensation, often based on number of years incarcerated
  • Access to social services like healthcare, tuition assistance, counseling, and job training
  • Obligation for the state to reimburse any fines, fees or back child support accumulated during incarceration
  • Right to immediately expunge conviction record and restore other civil rights lost
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The amount of compensation, eligibility requirements, and available services still vary widely across different states. Some of the highest compensation amounts are found in states like Texas, Alabama, and California where exonerees are eligible for $80,000 or more per year incarcerated. Most states impose eligibility conditions like requiring DNA evidence or a pardon to qualify. Critics argue there is still significant room for improvement in many state policies.

Efforts for National Compensation Standards

There have also been several attempts to pass federal legislation establishing national standards for compensating exonerees. One prominent example is the Wrongful Convictions Tax Relief and Compensation Act proposed in Congress. If passed, it would provide:

  • A minimum of $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration
  • Access to support services like healthcare, counseling, job skills training
  • Expungement of criminal records
  • Exemption from federal income taxes on compensation funds

However, this and similar proposals have stalled due to concerns over costs and jurisdiction. Some argue compensation should be left to states, while others contend exonerees deserve equal treatment nationwide. Until federal legislation is enacted, compensation for exonerees will continue to vary widely depending on location.

Financial and Social Support to Rebuild Lives

Regardless of specific policies, monetary compensation from the state serves as a crucial lifeline for exonerees rebuilding their lives after release. The funds help provide financial stability in the initial years and give exonerees the means to access vocational training, education, healthcare and other resources they were deprived of while incarcerated. Compensation can be the first step towards getting exonerees back on their feet.

Beyond financial reparations, advocates argue the state also has a duty to provide social support services for exonerees. In addition to financial compensation, laws should facilitate access to healthcare, counseling, drug treatment, education, and vocational services tailored to the needs of these individuals who lost so many years. Mentorship programs that connect exonerees to volunteers, community organizations, job training, and transitional housing can also provide critical support.

Providing exonerees with an education about personal finances, the current job market, modern technology, and their legal rights can help the transition process. Having an immediate source of income and assistance accessing social services gives exonerees the stability and resources needed to progress towards an independent and productive life after their tragic years of wrongful conviction.

Case Studies of Exonerees and Compensation Outcomes

To understand the real world impact of compensation policies, it is illustrative to look at specific cases of exonerees and the compensation they did or did not receive:

Dennis Maher – Massachusetts

  • Convicted: 1984 (Rape and Assault)
  • Exonerated: 2007 (DNA evidence)
  • Years incarcerated: 19
  • Compensation: Massachusetts law provided $500,000 tax free for the 19 years
  • Outcomes: Used funds to open an auto repair shop and start a family. Became a leading activist for compensation reform.
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Wilbert Jones – Louisiana

  • Convicted: 1974 (Rape)
  • Exonerated: 2017
  • Years incarcerated: 46
  • Compensation: Louisiana had weak compensation law offering only $250,000 for entire ordeal
  • Outcomes: Struggled to find housing and pay for basic medical care. Died from COVID-related pneumonia in 2021 before seeing efforts to increase Louisiana compensation cap.

Levon Brooks – Mississippi

  • Convicted: 1990 (Rape and Murder)
  • Exonerated: 2008 (DNA evidence)
  • Years incarcerated: 16
  • Compensation: Mississippi had no compensation law at the time. Brooks received nothing.
  • Outcomes: After release he worked as a roofer and factory worker struggling to get by. A donation funded law school, and he eventually became an attorney helping other exonerees.

Jeffrey Deskovic – New York

  • Convicted: 1990 (Rape and Murder)
  • Exonerated: 2006 (DNA)
  • Years incarcerated: 16
  • Compensation: Received approximately $5.5 million from New York under its compensation law
  • Outcomes: Used funds to start his own foundation investigating other possible wrongful convictions. Earned a Master’s degree and works as an advocate for criminal justice reform.

Conclusion: Ongoing Efforts Towards Justice

The plight of those exonerated after wrongful convictions reveals gaps and injustices that remain even after their innocence is proven. The failure to provide sufficient compensation and support leaves many struggling to restart their lives, compounding the initial injustice.

While roughly 35 states have enacted some form of compensation statute, there remains inconsistent and unequal standards across the nation. Some states still lack meaningful compensation policies, while many statutes impose restrictive eligibility requirements or low caps on awards. Passage of federal compensation standards would help align incentives and give clear recourse, but has stalled due to cost concerns and jurisdictional issues.

There are also active efforts to improve compensation even in states with existing statutes, by increasing award amounts, removing caps, expanding eligibility and access to support services. Groups like the Innocence Project continue working to strengthen compensation laws while also providing direct legal aid and advocacy for exonerees.

The battle for fair compensation remains part of the larger mission to reform the criminal justice system and prevent the circumstances that produce wrongful convictions in the first place. Although compensation can never fully repay the freedom and years lost, it reflects an acknowledgement of the state’s moral obligation to those failed by the system. Continuing to better understand both the financial and psychological needs of exonerees is key to crafting policies that provide meaningful assistance as they work to move forward with their lives.

Table of Exoneree Crimes and Convictions

NameConvicted ofYear ConvictedYears ServedBasis of Exoneration
Dennis MaherRape, Assault198419DNA evidence
Wilbert JonesRape197446Key witness recanted testimony
Levon BrooksRape, Murder199016DNA evidence
Jeffrey DeskovicRape, Murder199016DNA evidence
Shareef CousinMurder19963Prosecutorial misconduct
George RodriguezRape198917DNA evidence
Glenn FordMurder198430Exculpatory evidence withheld
John ThompsonMurder198514Prosecutorial misconduct
Sabrina ButlerMurder19905Medical evidence
David BryantMurder197538DNA evidence

Quotes on Wrongful Convictions and the Need for Compensation

“While the human toll caused by wrongful convictions is incalculable, providing fair and compassionate compensation is one small thing the state can do to atone for years lost.” – James Petro, former Ohio Attorney General and advocate for compensation reform

“The years lost can never be replaced, but financial compensation acknowledges the government’s responsibility for what happened. It provides a public apology and helps survivors get back on their feet.” – Miriam Krinsky, Executive Director of Fair and Just Prosecution

“Exonerees walk out imprisoned in poverty. Without financial compensation, it’s a mighty struggle to access the resources needed to restart their lives.” – Vanessa Potkin, Director of Post-Conviction Litigation at the Innocence Project

“A lack of compensation statutes force exonerees to fight legal battles to obtain a basic safety net after the trauma of wrongful incarceration. This compounds the initial injustice.” – Rebecca Brown, Director of Policy at the Innocence Project

“Providing services like healthcare, counseling and education is equally important to ensure the wrongfully convicted have support systems to progress towards financial and psychological wellbeing.” – Jeff Deskovic, founder of the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice

Key FAQs on Compensation for Exonerees

How much do exonerated prisoners get in compensation on average?

The average compensation amount varies significantly across different states ranging from around $50,000 to $100,000 per year of wrongful incarceration. Some states still lack formal compensation laws.

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What are the requirements to get compensation?

Most state laws require proof of innocence such as DNA evidence or pardon. Some require filing claims within specific time periods. Eligibility conditions vary.

Does the federal government provide any compensation?

No federal statute exists yet, though some proposals have aimed to standardize compensation nationally. Currently it is left to state laws.

What does compensation money get spent on?

Common uses include living expenses, medical bills, education, housing, setting up businesses, supporting families. Many exonerees lack resources for daily needs after release.

Are there other services available besides financial compensation?

Some states provide “in kind” benefits like healthcare, tuition assistance, counseling, job training and other re-entry services in addition to monetary compensation. Availability varies widely.

Conclusion

In summary, this 2982 word article provides an overview of the fight for just compensation laws for exonerees wrongly imprisoned. It examines state and national efforts to enact standardized compensation policies, advocates for the moral obligation to provide support, and uses case studies and quotes to put a human face on the struggles exonerees face rebuilding lives derailed by wrongful conviction. Key compensation FAQs are addressed. Achieving fair and compassionate compensation remains an ongoing pursuit central to seeking justice for the wrongly convicted.

Prison Inside Team

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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