I Support Compensating the Wrongfully Convicted in New Jersey

Stand with Dion & New Jersey’s Wrongfully Convicted

Ending racial injustice means creating real accountability. Fair exoneree compensation is an important way for the system to take responsibility for harming the innocent and help heal victims of wrongful conviction.

Dion Harrell spent four years in prison and over two decades on the sex offender registry for a sexual assault that DNA evidence proved he did not commit. This week the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office finally agreed to compensate him. 

However, his case shows why New Jersey’s exoneree compensation law is broken. Dion was forced to wait for more than two years before the state agreed to pay him. He will not get a penny for the time he was forced to register as a sex offender, which at times left homeless, jobless and stigmatized by his community.

You can help change New Jersey’s law by urging your lawmakers to support Assembly Bill 729/Senate Bill 391. Sign up in the above form and we will connect you to your elected officials.

AB 729/SB391 would:

  • Provide $25,000 for each year that an innocent person was wrongly on the sex offender registry, parole or probation.
  • End the exclusion of exonerees who pleaded guilty to crimes they did not commit, and
  • Fix the deadline for exonerees to file compensation.

Who We Are

The New Jersey Coalition for the Wrongfully Convicted is a diverse group of organizations committed to achieving justice and accountability for wrongfully convicted New Jerseyans. 

Our coalition includes:

  • The Hotel Trades Council
  • The Innocence Project
  • ACLU New Jersey
  • Centurion Ministries
  • Rev. David Shaw, Union Congregational Church of Montclair
  • Dion Harrell, Exoneree, Long Branch NJ
  • Gerard Richardson, Exoneree, Elizabeth NJ

Their Stories

In addition to Dion, John Dixon pleaded guilty in 1991 to a sexual assault he did not commit in Essex County because he feared a harsher sentence if he went to trial. After serving 10 years in prison, DNA testing proved his innocence. While he received state compensation for the time he wrongfully spent behind bars, in 2013 Governor Christie enacted a measure barring future New Jersey exonerees who pleaded guilty from obtaining state compensation.

Fixing New Jersey’s Wrongful Conviction Compensation

Due to actions taken by former Governor Chris Christie, New Jersey currently bars people who pleaded guilty from seeking compensation for wrongful convictions, even if DNA evidence proves their innocence. Those wrongfully convicted of sex crimes are also barred from seeking compensation for time that they unjustly spent on the sex offender registry, which often prevented them from landing employment or housing stability.

We have the opportunity to fix this in 2020 by passing Assembly Bill 729 & Senate Bill 391 to compensate the wrongfully convicted. 

 This legislation would fix New Jersey’s wrongful conviction compensation law by removing the bar on those who pleaded guilty and providing compensation for years wrongfully spent on parole, probation or the sex offender registry.

Sign the form above to support passing AB 729 & SB 391 to make sure the wrongly convicted get justice.

Voices from the coalition

“During the decades I was on the sex offender registry for a crime I didn’t commit I was homeless, struggled to get a job and couldn’t see my children. It’s really important for the state to compensate me for those years that were like living in a prison without bars.”

Dion Harrell, Exoneree, Long Branch

 

“I spent 24 years in prison when I was innocent, and state compensation is part of making things right for New Jersey exonerees like me. Even though I didn’t plead guilty, I can understand why innocent people do–fear. The innocent who plead guilty deserve to be compensated by the state that took away their freedom. 

Eric Kelley, Exoneree, Paterson

 

“No amount of money can make up for the years of my life I lost in prison for a crime I didn’t commit, but the least the state can do is to provide fair financial help, housing, medical assistance and other support to the wrongfully convicted.”  

Byron Halsey, Exoneree, Plainfield

 

New Jersey’s hospitality workers are incredibly proud to join the NJ Coalition for the Wrongfully Convicted. Our union sincerely believes that criminal justice represents one of the most critical civil rights issues of our time. In New Jersey, Assembly Bill 1037 is absolutely critical to ensuring accountability to wrongfully convicted people in the state who have been disenfranchised in too many ways for far too long.” 

Peter Ward, President of the Hotel Trades Union 

 

“When the state convicts an innocent person, it has a responsibility to help right this wrong. New Jersey should compensate the wrongfully convicted who pleaded guilty, and who were forced to register as sex offenders and suffer other injustices after prison.”

Michelle Feldman, Innocence Project State Campaigns Director

 

“Surrendering years of your life and your liberty for a crime you didn’t commit is a loss beyond measure, and those who have endured such injustices deserve fair compensation. We’re proud to be a part of a coalition making sure our laws guarantee that people who have lost so much receive a meaningful, tangible acknowledgment of the unnecessary ordeal they’ve experienced.”

Amol Sinha, ACLU New Jersey Executive Director

 

“Centurion wholeheartedly supports this legislation. In or out of prison living with a wrongful conviction is intolerable. Justice demands that all innocent people no matter how they were wrongly convicted should be able to wipe out their convictions.”

Paul Casteleiro, Legal Director of Centurion

 

“It is a necessary outflow of our community’s understanding of justice to add our voices to those who are working to fix the unjust wrongful conviction compensation law in New Jersey.”

Rev. David Shaw, Union Congregational Church of Montclair 

 

 

Photo of Dion Harrell by Sameer Abdel-Khalek.

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