Alan Northrop was wrongfully convicted of a rape in 1993 and spent 17 years in prison in Washington before DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project Northwest proved his innocence last year. Although he was exonerated in July, he has not received compensation from the state. He was, however, recently informed of a hefty bill he owed in back child support.
This week, Rep. Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines) will introduce legislation to compensate Washington’s wrongfully convicted, according to the Associated Press. Because of a budget shortfall, the bill wouldn’t take effect until 2014.
“The bill is about fairness,” says Orwall. “Hopefully the money helps them rebuild their lives. They really need a certain amount of support and resources.”
Washington is one of 23 states without a law compensating the exonerated. If passed, the proposed bill would resemble the federal standard for such laws – including $50,000 for each year behind bars, plus an additional $50,000 for each year served on death row. Orwall’s bill also includes $25,000 for each year the exoneree was registered as a sex offender or was under community supervision. The legislation would also guarantee free tuition at state schools for the wrongfully convicted and their children and provide healthcare and pay child support claims accrued during incarceration.
With his child support topping more than $100,000, Northrop can’t afford to wait until 2014. Even with the state Department of Social and Health Services waiving its share of Northrop’s balance as part of its program for forgiving child support bills in hardship cases, Northrop still owes tens of thousands of dollars he was unable to earn due to the wrongful conviction.
Meanwhile, Northrop is struggling to save up enough money for a car so he can keep his $12-an-hour job at a metal fabrication shop in Vancouver. He lives in Ridgefield with his girlfriend, a former classmate with whom he became re-aquainted last spring.
“They owe us – somebody does,” he says. “I’m struggling right now. I need every penny.”