Being wrongfully convicted of a crime you didn't do and held in prison for years is pretty terrible. Compound that with the added insult of denying the individual any compensation or even basic prisoner benefits when they are exonerated and released, and there's the picture for falsely imprisoned and released individuals in Michigan.
State Sen. Steve Bieda (D-Warren) is intent upon changing that, introducing a bill once again this month, for the sixth time since he was elected to public office, to compensate a victim of wrongful conviction in the state of Michigan. Bieda's bill will provide compensation of $60,000 for each year an individual was wrongfully held in prison, along with rehabilitative services. He noted it's based on what is done in other states – in actuality, 30 other states, as well as the District of Columbia. Former President George W. Bush endorsed Congress' recommended amount of $50,000 per year of incarceration, with basic services provided.
The issue of compensation reared its head as we looked at the Innocence Project in this issue, a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing. "Despite their proven innocence, the difficulty of reentering society is profound for the wrongfully convicted; the failure to compensate them adds insult to injury," the project says on their website. Society has an obligation to promptly provide compassionate assistance to the wrongfully convicted by providing financial support for the basic necessities of food, shelter and transportation, as well as medical and legal care.
As of January, 325 people nationwide have been exonerated post-conviction through DNA acquittals by various Innocence Projects. In Michigan, the Cooley Law School Innocence Project has been able to obtain three full post-conviction exonerations, and the University of Michigan Law School Innocence Clinic, which exonerates defendants using non-DNA testing methods, has had nine.
Donya Davis, exonerated in November 2014 by the Cooley Innocence Project, said that while he is thrilled to have been fully cleared of a 2007 rape and carjacking after serving seven years in prison, today he is homeless and penniless.
"I got no compensation, no help in finding a job," he said. "I didn't qualify for prisoner benefits, clothing vouchers, nothing that prisoners get when they're released. Everything is just upside down. I was just tossed out."
Bieda wants to change that, and believes that others want that as well. "So many people think we already have a bill for it. Michigan used to provide for wrongful conviction for 100 years, and we got away from it about 20 years ago. I'm not inventing something new. It's just the right thing to do."
We absolutely agree.