LANSING (WWJ/AP) – Michigan lawmakers have approved legislation to compensate innocent inmates.
Under a bill passed 104-2 by the House Wednesday, the state would pay ex-inmates $50,000, tax-free, for each year of their wrongful incarceration, along with attorney fees. Checks could be issued in a single payment or be spread over a maximum of 10 years.
Some would not qualify for the money if they served simultaneous sentences for other crimes. Others would be ineligible because they successfully sued for civil rights damages, which can be a difficult effort since police and prosecutors often have immunity.
Attorney Valerie Newman, who has represented a number of the wrongfully convicted, said the bill isn’t perfect — but it’s a start.
“There’s no amount of money that can compensate people whose lives have been taken from them, but it’s a great way to at least give people who have been wrongfully convicted a chance to when they get out of prison, get back on their feet,” Newman told WWJ’s Charlie Langton.
Even better than money, says Newman, is a provision in the legislation that provides services to help inmates assimilate back into society.
“When someone is exonerated, instead of saying ‘Hey, good luck! Here’s a kick in the ass,’ when they let you out of prison, they’re going to have the same services that are afforded to someone who is paroled,” she said.
Michigan has released more innocent prisoners than all but four states.
The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Sen. Steve Bieda of Warren said the compensation is the least the state can do for people who were “just plucked out of their regular lives and lost their freedom, they lost their reputations, their opportunity to in some cases have a family but certainly a career … It’s a justice issue.”
Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign the measure into law once the Senate takes a final vote.
Of the 60 people who have been freed in Michigan since 1989, 26 — or fewer than half — would qualify for compensation under the bill, according to nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency, which cites data from the University of Michigan’s Innocence Clinic.
Thirty other states provide the wrongfully convicted with financial support.
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