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Michigan's exoneration fund running low on money

A bill introduced into Michigan's state legislature would provide an additional $10 million for the state's compensation fund for wrongfully convicted prisoners. The fund is at risk of running out of money, despite the fact that more wrongful convictions continue to be exposed. Rep. Steve Johnson of Wayland introduced House Bill 4286 in order to provide additional funds to the account created in 2016 as part of the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act.

According to the Michigan Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act ("WICA"), former prisoners who were wrongfully convicted should receive $50,000 for every year they spent behind bars. However, officials said in early 2019 that only $1.6 million remains in the account. There are a number of claims on the fund still pending, and ex-prisoners say they are owed more than this amount. Johnson said that the law was an important step but reliable funding was necessary in order to make its provisions viable.

Advocates praised the bill but noted that significantly more than $10 million was needed to pay the state's debt to those who lost years of their lives behind bars. One lawyer said that one of her clients was wrongfully jailed for 46 years and is owed $2.3 million. She said that he was forced to sell off his possessions in order to survive.

A spokesperson for Johnson said that the $10 million allocation was meant to provide coverage until October, when Michigan's next annual budget will go into effect. He noted that the governor should appropriate an ongoing sum of money that is sufficient to meet the state's obligation to exonerated ex-prisoners.

Wolf Mueller of Mueller Law Firm testified before the House Appropriations Committee on March 6, 2019 in support of the bill. Mueller represents eleven (11) of the current thirty-nine (39) exonerees who have lawsuits pending against the state. His eleven (11) exonerees have served a total of 222 years in prison and are owed over $11 million. While he supported the short-term measure, he testified that $15 million more is needed on an ongoing basis for the state to live up to its promise to compensate wrongfully convicted individuals. 

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