In a perfect world, only guilty people would serve time in prison. But because of false accusations, forced confessions or mistakes, many innocent people spend years in prison for a crime they did not commit. If a wrongfully convicted person is released, he has a chance to receive monetary compensation. How much someone receives -- or if he gets anything at all -- depends on the state in which he was convicted.
Wrongful Conviction Awards
In the United States 29 states as of 2013 award some form of monetary compensation to the wrongfully convicted. Florida pays $50,000 per year jailed with a maximum of $2 million. Missouri pays $50 per day of wrongful confinement. Texas is one of the most generous states -- it offers $80,000 per year of wrongful incarceration, plus $25,000 per year spent as a registered sex offender or on parole. Texas also supplies tuition for college, vocational training and help accessing medical services.
Twenty-one states do not have any kind of statute for wrongful-conviction compensation, and even in states that do offer monetary compensation for exonerated people, it's often difficult to claim the award. For example, in Missouri and Montana, only those who prove their innocence via DNA testing are eligible for an award. In West Virgina, New Jersey, California and the District of Columbia, the wrongfully incarcerated person must not have contributed to his own prosecution. People who falsely confessed or pleaded guilty in Mississippi or Iowa will not receive any compensation.
Even if a wrongfully imprisoned person receives an award, he may have a hard time readjusting to society. Most states do not offer any sort of reintegration assistance for exonerated people. They tend to have trouble finding jobs, even though they were guilty of no crime. Upon release, they are given little to no help in securing affordable housing, medical care, counseling services, education, food or transportation. Some lose custody of their children and have trouble getting it back. Often, it takes an average of three years for an exonerated person to receive aid or compensation. Most states also tax this money.
Alan Northrop was arrested in 1993 for kidnapping and raping a housekeeper. The woman had been blindfolded for much of the attack, but a jury still sided with her claims that Northrop was the perpetrator. He sat in jail for years. In 2010, a DNA test proved that he was innocent. He was freed a few months later. Washington, the state in which he was jailed, gave him no monetary compensation. Northrop left jail with just $2,500 to his name. A man named Alejandro Dominguez received $9 million in 2006 -- he was jailed for four years in Illinois for a rape he didn't commit. He got the money because the victim had been pushed to identify him although he didn't match the attacker's description.
- Innocence Project: Reforms by State
- CNN: Time Doesn't Pay, Wrongfully Imprisoned Find
- Innocence Project: Compensating The Wrongly Convicted
- Forbes: The Price of Freedom: What Happens to the Wrongfully Convicted?
- Slate: 18 Years in Prison? Priceless.
- The Florida Legislature: The 2013 Florida Statutes
- Texas Indigent Defense Commission: Compensations to Persons Wrongfully Convicted
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