Wrongful Conviction Day Brings Awareness, What About Compensation?

As social media is flooded with discussion about awareness of Wrongful Conviction Day, it is equally as important that we discuss what comes next after release from prison. Compensation for wrongful conviction is a work in progress.

Even after those who were wrongfully convicted have been proven so, the road to freedom is not true freedom, and the punishment continues to linger long after release from prison.

In terms of financial compensation, laws vary remarkably by state. Seventeen states currently have no laws requiring any financial compensation at all.

Think about that. With a 4.1 percent error rate of those sentenced to death, and an average of 10 years spent wrongfully imprisoned, 17 states are not legally required to give these people any money to get back on their feet or to help make up for lost income, lost time with family, or even lost opportunities for jobs. These people are often released, and left to figure the rest out for themselves.

Finding work after a wrongful conviction is a nightmare as well. The process to seal or clear a wrongful criminal record even after being released can take years of court processes and can be very expensive, which is hard to fund without a job since many places will not hire someone convicted of serious crimes. Whether it was wrongful or not, the record often exists and is available to employers.

The trend of discussion about wrongful conviction is, on average, increasing from 2004 to the present.

This data from Google Trends shows the interest in the search term “wrongful convictions” from January of 2004 to October 2019

As the discussion becomes more prominent throughout society and through innocence organizations more recently, proposals and the passing of these bills for wrongful conviction compensation are on the rise, showing that our country is taking a step in the right direction.

In 2018, wrongful conviction compensation bills were been passed in Kansas and Massachusetts. In 2019, they were passed in Nevada and Indiana. And a bill is currently in the works for the 2020 legislative session in Idaho.

As stated by The Innocence Project, “By guaranteeing compensation to the wrongfully convicted, a state can take an important step towards ensuring the integrity of its criminal justice system.”

As time progresses, our country is working toward a better criminal justice system- state by state.