About one-third of the people exonerated after proving their innocence have not been compensated for the injustice they suffered and the time they spent incarcerated.
Statutes providing for some form of compensation for the wrongly convicted are in place in 30 states plus Washington, D.C., but some of these laws don’t truly meet society’s obligation to help exonerated people recover from the injustice they suffered and the years of freedom they lost.
The moral and legal obligation to provide compensation
With no money, housing, transportation, health services, or insurance, and a criminal record that is not always cleared despite innocence, the punishment lingers long after an innocent person is exonerated. States have a responsibility to restore innocent people’s lives.
The Innocence Project recommends that all states:
- compensate exonerated people immediately after release with a fixed sum or a range of recovery for each year of wrongful incarceration. Congress recommended that this amount be set at $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration.
- provide immediate re-entry funds and access to job training, educational, health and legal services after an innocent person’s release.
A safety net, not another battle
In several states, inmates must file civil lawsuits in order to be compensated. In others, the legislature will consider a “private bill” to compensate one individual, rather than creating a policy for compensation any time someone is proven innocent.
Here’s what compensation looks like in our five-state region:
- Arkansas has no exoneree compensation law.
- Iowa provides limited compensation. As long as the wrongfully convicted person did not plead guilty, he or she is eligible for $50 per day of wrongful incarceration, plus lost wages up to $25,000 a year, plus attorney’s fees. Effective: 1997. Read the statute.
- Kansas has no compensation law. A bill was introduced shortly after the exoneration of Floyd Bledsoe in December 2015, however, it did not pass.
- Missouri provides compensation only for individuals exonerated through DNA evidence. In that specific circumstance, the individual is eligible for $50 per day of post-conviction confinement if filed within one year of release. Effective: 2006. Read the statute. Recent efforts have been made to increase the amount to approximately $137 per day, but that bill (which still did not include non-DNA cases) did not pass.
- Nebraska law states that “Any person with a pardon for innocence, whose conviction was vacated, or whose conviction was reversed and remanded for a new trial and no subsequent conviction was obtained is eligible for damages found to proximately result from the wrongful conviction with a maximum of $500,000. Effective: 2009. Read the statute.