"Rebuilding the Lives of the Wrongfully Convicted"

Man who served 17 years in prison for rape he didn’t commit inspires Washington state bill to compensate wrongfully imprisoned $50,000 per year

New York Daily News
       
        

 

The state of Washington is considering a bill that would pay prison inmates  who were wongly convicted $50,000 for every year they spent in jail.  Twenty-seven other states have passed similar laws. 

“Just trying to make a decision -- a simple decision. I’m not used to that,”  Northrop told the Seattle Times. “In there, you don’t have to worry about  it.”

With three grown children he scarcely knew and child support bills of $50,000  waiting for him when he was released, Northrop, now 48, finally managed to  secure an $11-an-hour job at an auto glass repair shop. His story, however, has  proven the inspiration for a new law that could right his financial woes and  help other wrongfully convicted inmates.

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“When I read about it, I was just so distressed by his story,” Rep. Tina  Orwall of Washington state’s House of Representatives told the Daily News. “I  definitely wanted to help him. As a parent, I can’t think of something more  horrible.”

Orwall introduced House Bill 1341, which would provide wrongly convicted  inmates with $50,000 for each year they served behind bars. Death row inmates  would receive an additional $50,000. The bill would also mandate that the state  pay wrongfully convicted sex offenders $25,000 per year that they spent on  parole.

Federal law already requires payments of $50,000 per year for anyone  wrongfully detained in a federal prison.

Already, 27 states have passed similar laws, but upwards of one-third of  those whose convictions have been overturned have yet to receive any  compensation, the Innocence Project says on its website.

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While some of the Washington bill’s opponents cited the state’s budget  deficit as a reason not to authorize payments to the former inmates, Orwall says  that in the end, it makes fiscal sense.

“We currently have three lawsuits going through the court system brought by  people who were wrongfully convicted,” Orwall said. “One payout in just one of  these cases will be much more than the cost of the new bill.”

According to Orwall, the Innocence Project has conducted a review of the  allegations of wrongful convictions in the state over the past 12 years and have  identified just four cases that would qualify for monetary compensation.

Though it’s an attempt to make amends for the criminal justice system’s  errors, however, Northrop knows nothing can fully erase what happened to  him.

“I did 17 messed-up years in there,” Northrop told the Times.  

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