The 208 people exonerated by DNA evidence in the United States served an average of 12 years in prison. They come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, but most spent the prime of their lives behind bars. Imagine yourself at 26 years old, and then at 38. These are the years many people start a family, build a career, travel, make friends, spend time with grandparents and children. For many exonerees, convicted in their 20s and exonerated in their 40s or 50s, all of this was gone.
Most states provide no immediate or automatic assistance for the growing number of people released from prison after serving time for crimes they didn’t commit.
have compensation laws of some sort, but many of these are antiquated, ineffective and don’t provide any services like education or health care.
It’s impossible to truly compensate a person for decades of stolen freedom, but states – and their citizens – have the duty to at least attempt to help exonerees rebuild their lives.
“There’s no amount of money they could give me to replace twenty years of my life,” says Louisiana inmate Calvin Willis in the book Surviving Justice. “I missed my kids’ childhoods. I always wanted to be a father to them. When I left here, my grandmother, she was strong. Now she’s bent over, she’s frail. They can’t give that back.”
Help on the horizon?
Two states passed laws compensating the wrongfully convicted during the 2007 legislative sessions, and several more are considering these important reforms for the 2008 sessions.
Vermont passed its first compensation law
, providing up to $60,000 per year of wrongful incarceration.
Texas legislators approved an amendment to the state’s standing compensation bill
, doubling the amount of money paid to exonerees from $25,000 to $50,000 per year incarcerated.
A bill before the Michigan legislature
would compensate the wrongfully convicted upon exoneration. Several additional states will consider compensation bills during their 2008 sessions.
Three other states – Georgia, Connecticut and Louisiana – passed “private bills” in 2007, compensating an individual for the injustice they suffered but not creating a precedent for compensating those exonerated in the future. The Innocence Project supports state statutes that compensate every person exonerated of a crime at an amount of at least $50,000 per year of wrongful incarcerations.
Read more about compensation reforms here
What you can do
Donate to the Exoneree Fund – Almost all compensation bills nationwide take months or years to come to fruition, and exonerees are often released without any safety net. Those without the support of family or friends after long years in prison may have nowhere to go. The Innocence Project Exoneree Fund provides the vital services that exonerees often need immediately upon release – like housing, food and clothing.
You can help exonerated Innocence Project clients rebuild their lives by donating to the Exoneree Fund today
Speak out for local reform – Tell your state legislators that you support compensation for exonerees.
View a map of your state’s current laws
, and then
click here to learn how to advocate for local reform through the media and direct contact with your elected representatives
Request an exoneree speaker for your school, office or community event. The wrongfully convicted have an incredible story to tell – about our criminal justice system’s failures and the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.
Email us today to request a speaker at your event
In the most comprehensive study ever done of the wrongfully convicted and their lives after exoneration, a New York Times story published on November 25 delves into the lives of more than 130 people freed by DNA testing.
Listen to interviews with the exonerees and learn more about how this unique group of people – who have endured so much – has adjusted to freedom
Listen to the story of Larry Peterson on National Public Radio
– starting with an interview inside New Jersey State Prison and following him as he adjust to life outside of prison.