I guess I just assumed this wasn’t a problem:
In Pennsylvania, people who have been wrongfully incarcerated for crimes they did not commit do not receive any reparations for the damages that resulted from years spent in prison.
This was the case for a former inmate named Tony Wright who served twenty-five years in jail for a murder he did not commit. He was wrongfully convicted in 1991, just avoiding the death penalty in a jury trial that voted 7 – 5 against it. On August 23, 2016 he was finally able to return to his life after the charges were dropped during a retrial in which the jury’s deliberation took under an hour to decide he was innocent.
The National Registry of Exonerations found that Wright’s case is one of fifty-four in Pennsylvania in which prisoners were later acquitted of criminal charges after serving out part or all of a prison sentence.
PA is one of only a handful of states that provide zero compensation to exonerated prisoners upon their release and is one of twenty states that requires a person to go through the judicial process of a civil lawsuit for hardships and damages that resulted from the years spent in jail.
However, there is a movement to change this among activists of The Innocence Project that advocates for the rights of inmates who are later found innocent. This Innocence Project has pushed for a compensation statute to offer those who are exonerated in PA up to $50,000 per year of incarceration providing that they file their claim no more than two years after being acquitted.
The bill is being sponsored by Senator Stewart Greenleaf of Pennsylvania and is currently pending review in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
According to the federal government, the standard compensation for exonerated inmates should be around $63,000, but this amount depends on the state with Wisconsin offering $25,000 no matter the case while pardoned inmates in Texas can receive as much as $80,000 per year depending on the damages filed in the claim.
Philadelphia Defense Attorney Amato Sanita commented, “Passing this legislation will encourage police officers and prosecutors to take more care during criminal investigations and trials to avoid wrongfully convicting someone and later having to make the state pay a large sum in reparations.”
For Tony Wright, the innocent man who spent 25 years in prison in PA, the passage of this bill means a lot. He could receive nearly $1 million in reparations for the quarter century that he spent jailed for a crime he did not commit. Wright and other former inmates who were pardoned will join the Pennsylvania branch of the Innocence Project on October 4 in Harrisburg to promote the passage of the compensation statute to state legislators.
Although there is support for the bill, the director of the Innocence Project in Pennsylvania, Marissa Bluestine, worries that the requirement in the bill that evidence for exoneration be “clear and convincing” may be too stringent for many to qualify.
She also fears that this bill, if passed, will mark the end of any civil rights laws being discussed in that state for a while because of the potential cost to the state.
However, for people like Wright, the bill could help him lead a better life post-imprisonment, something he and others who have face similar injustices undoubtedly deserve.
One thought on “New PA bill to pay reparations for wrongful incarceration”
Revoke sovereign immunity and this takes care of itself.
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