Imagine being locked up in prison for a decade or longer after being convicted of a crime you didn’t commit. You are fortunate that the truth eventually comes out and you are freed. But what happens next? Surely, the state owes you some financial compensation for the years of your life that were stolen from you.
That should be how it works, but it’s not the case in Pennsylvania. We are one of only 15 states that provide no compensation or financial support for the wrongfully incarcerated. The commonwealth essentially has no liability when it robs innocent individuals of their rights and freedoms.
This is not only wrong from a moral standpoint. It also creates major problems for inmates after they are freed. It is very difficult to reenter society after time spent in prison – even when it is public knowledge that you were wrongfully incarcerated. It can be hard or impossible to find a job, a good place to live and to readjust to life outside of prison walls.
So what should be done about this, other than fighting for reforms that would hopefully reduce wrongful convictions? State representative Chris Rabb will be introducing a bill this fall that would give wrongfully convicted individuals $65,000 per year for each year that they were wrongfully locked up. It wouldn’t be nearly enough to adequately compensate for the injustice, but it would at least be an acknowledgement of responsibility and a way to ease the transition back into society.
If you think that wrongful conviction is a rare problem, the following statistic might change your mind. Last year, in 2019, Pennsylvania exonerated 14 people who had been wrongfully convicted, many of whom had already spent at least 10 years in prison. One wrongfully convicted individual is too many, and 14 is beyond unacceptable.
It’s unclear how much support the bill will receive, but this should not be a partisan issue. Wrongful conviction and incarceration are threats to the integrity of our criminal justice system.
The increased focus on reducing mistakes and bias in criminal trials will hopefully lower the wrongful conviction rate over time. But if you are facing criminal charges, you can’t afford to take chances. You should seek the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney who will aggressively advocate for your rights and your freedom.