It’s hard to put a price on the time lost behind prison walls. It is impossible to determine the monetary value of strained and broken relationships, birthdays and Christmases spent alone, years of lost wages, mental and physical suffering, or the missed opportunities to raise your own children or grandchildren. When a human life is so deeply damaged by such a grave injustice, it is necessary for the state to repair that damage to the best of their ability.
Only 32 states and the federal government have laws in place that define exactly how much money is awarded for wrongful convictions. Often this comes in the form of set amounts for each year served, but that number can vary greatly from state to state. The amount will also cap at a certain amount in some states and in many cases these cap at much too low a number. In Wisconsin, for example, there is a bill currently in state legislature aimed at fighting the very low cap of $25,000 for their wrongful conviction rewards.
As far as the other 18 states that make up our country, individuals in these states must fight for their own compensations by passing private bills or filing civil lawsuits if the former fails. This can lead to the incredibly unjust result of these exonerated people receiving no compensation at all if they are unable to get a bill passed or succeed in a civil suit. Even for those who do not win, they must still venture into this battle for justice after they have already had to battle for their own freedom. This is simply unjust and adds insult to injury.
In addition to money, they need help when they are released. Money does play a large role, if the compensation is large enough they can secure a place to live and not have to worry about seeking out employment, at least not for a while. But, they are still being thrown back into a new and unfamiliar world to start essentially from scratch. The average time served for a wrongful conviction is 14 years, and a lot can change in that time. While the freedom of being released is undeniably wonderful, for many of those released that is simply the beginning of a new set of struggles and problems for them. It is more than enough of a hardship to try to readjust to life in the real world outside of the horrors endured behind prison walls. But, for many innocent people, they have no time to think about this upon their release because they have to worry about where they are going to live, how to get a job as many of them still remain with criminal records despite proving their innocence, many have to battle to earn back the custody of their children, and unfortunately many have to fight for any sort of compensation for their wrongful convictions, something that should come automatically.
Along with a substantial monetary compensation for the time taken away from the victims of wrongful convictions, the state needs to provide additional services. Mental and physical health services are needed for those leaving prison. Therapy is essential to help deal with the psychological damage of years spent away from family and friends for a crime they did not commit. In addition, prison presents a high risk for the spread of diseases and proper health services are necessary to evaluate the conditions of these people upon their release. Services are also needed to help them find affordable housing and a job that will employ them in spite of their records. The scars of their wrongful convictions often still serve as roadblocks for them to achieve these basic human necessities, despite their exoneration.
These services are needed to help victims to just initially get back on their fight. But, they need to go even more in-depth. These victims will need to be provided legal assistance to help them get their criminal records clear of their charges once they have been proven innocent. These charges will continue to hold them back from jobs, housing, and relationships as long as crimes that they are not guilty of remain on their record. They will also need legal assistance to fight for monetary compensation in many cases, to regain access to their children, or to sue if their constitutional rights were violated in the process of this wrongful conviction.
For those wrongfully convicted of a crime, finally being released from prison is likely to be the best day of their life. But, it is unfortunately not the end of their nightmarish experience.