Compensation Due Exonerated Inmates?

by lewwaters

The wheels of justice are slow moving and at times not moving at all, it seems. But by and large they do roll and even when a wrong was committed, such as convicting innocent people, correction of that wrong does happen.

I once knew an Army JAG (Judge Advocate General) Officer, an attorney, who told me he was taught in Law School, “It is better that 10 guilty go free than 1 innocent be convicted.” Unfortunately, innocent people are convicted, due to misidentification; wrongful recollection of victims and witnesses, overly zealous prosecutors, inept defense counsel, the list is almost endless.

We don’t have a perfect justice system, but we strive to be just and correct wrongs once discovered.

Such was the case with two convicted men in 1993 of the rape of a La Center woman, exonerated by DNA evidence last year in July. The improvements in DNA Evidence showed that neither man was responsible for the crime and charges were dropped, they were set free.

Due to no fault of their own, they also were exonerated in the midst of one of the worst economic downturns in our countries history. The reasons why the economy is so bad are debated with fingers pointing everywhere, but the fact remains, their freedom came at a time the country is deeply struggling and many areas are facing double digit unemployment.

Working with the Innocence Project, the group that helped to secure their exoneration, Rep. Tina Orwall (D. 33rd LD) is writing legislation to propose such exonerated inmates be given compensation to the tune of “$50,000 per year spent in prison, plus $50,000 more for every year spent on death row and $25,000 for every year on community supervision or as a registered sex offender.”

Additionally, the proposed legislation would “include providing health care and paying child support obligations incurred by prisoners during their incarceration,” and might well also “guarantee free tuition at state schools for the former prisoners and their children.”

Alan Northrup, one of those exonerated last year says, “They owe us – somebody does. I’m struggling right now. I need every penny.”

Rep. Orwall said, “The bill is about fairness. I know the money can’t make up for the losses they’ve experienced, but it could help them rebuild their lives. They really need a certain amount of support and resources.”

I agree it “wasn’t fair,” but almost everybody is struggling right now with 13.1% unemployment in Clark County where he resides and works at a metal fabricating plant earning $12.00 an hour.

Larry Davis, the other man exonerated says he has only worked 3 days in the past 8 months.

Many of our older citizens haven’t worked that many days in a much longer period and have exhausted unemployment benefits.

With the state legislature once again dealing with a $4.6 Billion budget shortfall and social programs being slashed to the bone, can we afford to start a program as this at this time? Even with the date they would start receiving payments put off until 2014, will taxpayers be in any better shape, given that no relief is seen in the immediate future?

The legislature is already debating HB 1037, a bill “Placing restrictions on legal claims initiated by persons serving criminal sentences in correctional facilities.”

And again I’ll add it isn’t “fair,” but is it fair that those of us struggling in the private sector must pay upwards of 70% of our health insurance premiums while state and county workers pay almost none?

Given the state of our economy, Alan Northrop is lucky to even have a job.

I find it ridiculous that he was hit with $111,000 in back child support when he came out. That the Department of Human Services waived their portion was good. A judge should also waive the portion claimed by his ex due to extenuating circumstances and that the state most likely already paid her.

I agree they deserve help picking up the pieces of their lives, but returning Troops aren’t given free healthcare for life, free tuition for them and their children in state schools or a windfall for the time they were deployed. Even when the draft was in effect, benefits were not that generous.

Only the most severely disabled Veteran receives absolutely free health care through the Veterans Administration. Likewise with education, those from my era, Viet Nam, received reduced tuition through the G.I. Bill, not free tuition and again, unless severely disabled, my children receive nothing, except a free flag to drape over my coffin and a grave marker.

These men are owed something; I think we can all agree on that. If for no other reason, out of a sense of fairness we need to help them.

Some reasonable compensation, job assistance, maybe even a little preference in hiring is in order.

But, struggling taxpayers should not be put on the hook again because of a wrongful conviction. We all have had something “unfair” happen in our lives, to one degree or another. That unfairness might not be on par with what happened to these men, but we expected and received absolutely nothing to compensate.

Too many seem to forget that when it says “the state pays,” it actually means taxpayers who are already struggling to get by.

I’m very sorry this happened to these men and all the wishing in the world won’t change that it did. Still, placing more burdens on the backs of taxpayers will not change that it did.

All it can accomplish is more hard feelings towards government.

Let’s help these men out, yes. But, let’s relieve the burden on struggling taxpayers too.

5 Comments to “Compensation Due Exonerated Inmates?”

  1. If Trimet can afford to pay bus drivers over $100K/yr, a state ought to be able come up with half that amount for its mistake of putting a innocent person in a tiny cage for years on end.

    Maybe we could reduce the number of these wrongful convictions, if the compensation cost came out of the retirement account of the prosecutor that let it happen? Or the witness that lied. (I know that it is not always that simple.)



  2. Jim, I’m in agreement that nothing could ever give back what they lost. I do advocate and support helping them anyway we can.

    But, at the same time, I look at the financial situation of the state and unemployment here in Clark County.

    That I can find, Oregon has no such proposal just yet and less than half of the states currently do have the program.


  3. The fact is, when a state wrongfully imprisons one of its own citizens, meaningful compensation is difficult. Nobody can give these individuals the thing they deserve the most: the years of their lives stolen from them as they languished in a prison cell…not until we invent time machines, anyway.

    But there are things we can, and must, do. Paying them so much money that they don’t have to work for the rest of their lives is not the answer, but some financial compensation is certainly in order. These people are re-entering society at a huge disadvantage, having missed out on years, if not decades, of educational and economic opportunities, due entirely to the actions of the state. Whatever measures that can reasonably compensate for that disadvantage should be taken. Therefore, I think free tuition at state universities is entirely reasonable.

    Free healthcare for life may be excessive, but if the exoneree suffered any illnesses or injuries as a direct result of his incarceration, any medical expenses arising from those should be covered.


  4. John, I agree, money doesn’t solve everything. But, I also agree they are owed some financial compensation.

    As you said, these guys are now at a huge disadvantage through no real fault of their own and not only deserve help now, but need it now. With payments not kicking in until 2014, 3 years from now, what help is that for these guys?

    I would agree free tuition or some other education to gain a job is reasonable for them. I don’t know about extending it to their children, though. Especially if the state has been paying for them while their fathers were wrongfully imprisoned.

    Another thing I don’t see is what about those who convicted them? I don’t mean juries, but what of the prosecutor or witnesses? Did they make honest mistakes? Did they suppress evidence to gain a conviction? In this particular case, although I have not found all of the information from 1993, the victim was hesitant to identify them, not being sure. How did she become “sure?”

    If there was prosecutorial misconduct, that needs addressed as well.

    It will be interesting to see just what all is in the bill once presented.


  5. you people really dont know what your talking about. i’m the person alan owes child support to. everyone makes me sound like i’m worthless. the fact of the matter is the state has’nt even come close to giving me the amount of money, they say alan owes. i worked my ass off for years supporting our children. there was a time when alan was down that we had some hard times. and yes i went to the state for help. so before you judge me get the facts not the person everyone is putting me out to be. and for the record alan and i are get over it. dont keep judging a book by its cover.


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