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MA Legislators Want To Make Things Less Horrible For The Wrongly Convicted
Well, that would certainly make sense.
It’s always good (and yet depressing) news when a wrongly convicted person is released from prison — and yet, there are some logistical problems with just opening the doors and letting them go on their way without so much as a tube of toothpaste to their name. While they are often owed compensation for the years or decades stolen from their lives, they often have to wait a long time before seeing any restitution. And what are they supposed to do until then?
Several Massachusetts lawmakers want to ensure they are cared for and in conjunction with activists have put together several bills in the state House and Senate aimed at giving the wrongly incarcerated a leg up upon reentry — which they hope to pass by the end of this legislative session.
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“We’ve just been very, very upset to learn about people waiting for months, even years before they get the compensation they deserve,” Sen. Patricia Jehlen, D-2nd Middlesex, told MassLive. “People spent decades in prison, they came out with nothing. In some cases, they had relatives and friends, but they had no resume, no job skills that were current. In many cases, they didn’t know how to use a cellphone or the internet. They had nowhere to live. No income and no money. And not even the kind of support they’d get if they were on parole.”
Among other things, the bills would:
Remove a current $1 million cap on compensation to allow for significant periods of incarceration;
Provide exonerated people with $5,000 immediately upon their release;
Clarify the state services that can be provided in addition to that financial compensation;
Provide compensation for people who can prove their innocence, even if their convictions were vacated on other grounds.
I would suggest more than $5,000, given that the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Massachusetts is $2,500, but at least it’s something. The state already provides tuition assistance and counseling services to the wrongfully convicted, but these measures would certainly
If passed, this legislation would make Massachusetts the second state to provide some form of compensation immediately upon release, the other being California.
Only three of the 228 people exonerated last year were in Massachusetts, so taking care of them is certainly not going to break the bank — it’s a good and necessary start, for sure.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations, there have been more than 3400 exonerations since first they started keeping track in 1989, 55 percent of whom have never received any compensation for their time. More than 25,000 years have been stolen by the US Justice system.
Twelve states — Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, New Mexico, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming — still do not require any compensation to the wrongly convicted. Oregon only passed a law requiring it last year.
Hopefully, if this passes in Massachusetts, other states will be inspired to be less horrible to the innocent people whose lives they ruined.