News 05.05.14

Uphill Battle after Exoneration

A recent article in

USA Today

examined the uphill battle many exonerees face once they have been freed from prison. Even after innocence is proven, the wrongly convicted can wait years before being compensated and can struggle to establish a sense of normalcy.

 

The article pointed to New York exonerees Jeff Deskovic, Marty Tankleff, Fernando Bermudez and recently released Jonathan Fleming and Illinois exoneree Jarrett Adams as examples of men who are left to their own devices upon being released from prison. This is in stark contrast to the support that paroled guilty offenders receive when they walk out of prison, including access to social services such as temporary housing and job placement.

 

New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman proposed legislation to expand compensation to those who falsely confessed but were later cleared. Although New York is among 29 states with a compensation statute, the amount varies as does the criteria to be eligible to be compensated.

 

Karen Wolff, a social worker with the Innocence Project, told

USA Today

, “It’s not right that by virtue of where somebody is born or where somebody was arrested and incarcerated that they come out of prison to absolutely no support, with nothing in their pocket and no place to live.”

 

With no money, housing, transportation, health services or insurance, and a criminal record that is rarely cleared despite innocence, the punishment lingers long after an innocent person is exonerated. Fleming, who was freed last month, has relied on the kindness of his family and friends and attorneys, who have given him clothing, a cellphone and a roof over his head.

 

Fernando Bermudez, who was freed in 2009 after serving 18 years for a murder he did not commit, is still struggling with his transition to freedom.“I felt like I was surrounded by prison wires when I was walking the dog,” Bermudez, 45, said to

USA Today

. “I actually got dizzy at a department store and grocery store because all of the colors and selections overwhelmed me.”

 

In addition to compensating the wrongly convicted immediately after release with a fixed sum or a range of recovery for each year of wrongful incarceration, the Innocence Project recommends that all states provide immediate re-entry funds and access to job training, educational, health and legal services after an innocent person’s release.

 


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