In an op-ed on Sunday, the New York Times highlighted the plight of those wrongly convicted of crimes as they seek to rebuild their lives on the outside.
Mark Schand, who spent 27 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, was released in 2013 after a judge dismissed the charges against him. Upon release, Schand was not eligible even for the benefits awarded to offenders released on parole in Massachusetts. In order to pursue compensation, Schand must prove his innocence in court. Even then, the Times points out, the cap for compensation is $500,000.
“It wouldn’t compensate in any way for the emotional damage that serving a prison sentence for something you didn’t do would cause a person,” Schand’s attorney John Thompson told the Times.
Massachusetts is only one of many states with inadequate compensation laws. New Hampshire has a cap of $20,000, regardless of the number of years the defendant spent behind bars. Twenty states don’t have any law at all regarding wrongful conviction compensation.
“What we find, in state after state, is it’s incredibly complicated, and it varies,” said Rebecca Brown, the director of policy for the Innocence Project, to the Times.
Some states, such as California and Minnesota, are making an effort to address the issue in light of many recent exonerations. The Innocence Project recommends payments of at least $64,000 per year of wrongful incarceration, an additional $64,000 for every year on death row and $32,000 per year on parole or on a sex offender registry, as well as funds for clothing, housing, job training, education and health care.
While no amount of money can bring back the time and opportunities lost to the exoneree after many years in prison, the state can at least facilitate his or her re-entry into society.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Brown told the Times, “and frankly, the state has a moral responsibility to bring people back to where they were as best they can.”
Read the full op-ed here.