Post-conviction DNA testing has lead to the release of many prisoners wrongfully convicted by the courts. Unfortunately, these releases often do not come until after the innocent person has spent more than a decade in prison.
In general, a wrongfully-convicted individual can spend decades locked up before new evidence becomes available that proves innocence. While these victims are grateful for their new-found freedom, there is nothing they can do to get back the 10 or more years they lost due to egregious failures of the justice system. Furthermore, once the wrongfully convicted try to return to their lives, they typically have to start over with nothing.
The release of a wrongfully-convicted individual does not negate their unjust and unwarranted punishment. Even though there is proof of innocence, the criminal records of these victims can linger and cause problems for them securing gainful employment, housing and even when attempting to reestablish connections with friends and family. This is why the courts have a responsibility to help these individuals who were wrongfully convicted and incarcerated.
Monetary compensation & services
When a person has suffered due to a wrongful conviction — losing everything as a result — they will need financial support in order to purchase the most basic necessities. In addition, he or she will also need assistance obtaining housing, medical care and often counseling to deal with the effects of the years spent behind bars. All but 18 states have taken steps to enact laws that provide compensation to the wrongfully convicted. This compensation can be as much as $50,000 per year spent in prison. Unfortunately, in many cases, the compensation is insufficient for what the innocent have suffered. The available services tend to also be limited and do not provide the levels of support that these individuals need.
Shortcomings in the system
At the moment, there is no uniform way for the wrongfully convicted to gain access to monetary compensation. For instance, some states only have “private compensation bills” available for deserving people after the courts have failed them. Because of this, the innocent must fight for the compensation they deserve. Some states won’t compensate individuals that the court believes “contributed” to their own wrongful convictions. For instance, if the police coerced or forced a person to confess to or admit guilt for crimes he or she did not commit, the state might rule that individual is not eligible for compensation.
While it can seem like the system is stacked against those wrongfully convicted, there are options available. If you or a loved one has been wrongfully convicted, remember that you still have rights and can fight back against the system.