Getting a job with prison on your resume isn’t easy. That’s an understatement, but tomorrow ex-offenders in Ohio will get free advice—including information on starting a business and finding the resources to return to school—and even free proper business clothing to help them get back into the workplace. The event, free and open to ex-offenders, will be held at Columbus State Community College. Thanks to several government agencies involved and to Ohio Development Director David Goodman for this initiative. Goodman also sponsored Senate Bill 77, the bill that enacted best practice reform aimed at reducing wrongful conviction.
Which brings to mind the peculiar place of the exonerated. One would presume that tomorrow’s program would also welcome those wrongfully convicted, because, unfortunately, many still face the stigma of prison even though they did not deserve to be there.
An unfortunate reality for those proven innocent after conviction is the lack of resources available to transition back into the world and productive living. In some cases they don’t even qualify for the few resources given convicts upon prison release.
And imagine the conflict felt in needing the assistance of an event like this one in Ohio but the reluctance to attend a program for ex-cons when desperately trying to clarify to the world that you technically should not qualify. Your conviction was a mistake.
As with the ex-offender, the punishment of the wrongfully convicted doesn’t end with release from prison. While headlines of multi-million dollar settlements provide another reminder of the many costs of wrongful conviction, the reality is that most who are wrongfully convicted do not get the help they need after exoneration.
The status of compensation for the wrongfully convicted in the U.S.:
• About a third of those exonerated have not been compensated for their suffering and losses from wrongful conviction and imprisonment.
• Twenty-nine states, plus the District of Columbia and the federal government, have statutes in place to compensate the wrongfully convicted, but these 21 states do not: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wyoming.
• Many existing statutes do not meet the state’s moral obligations to repair the damage and assist in recovery.
• In some states the exonerated must file lawsuits or seek individual compensation legislation to receive compensation.
• Some states restrict compensation unfairly, for example, by not providing compensation to those who falsely confessed, even though we now know that many false confessions were coerced.
The wrongfully convicted often face the same reality when walking out of prison as those who did the crime and the time: They often have no money, no home, no transportation, no understanding of technology and other advancements, no health benefits, no recent work experience. Some will never get assistance, some will have to do legal battle for it.
That is why the Innocence Project and other similar advocacy groups are working to correct the injustice that often follows injustice. Among their recommendations: All states without compensation statutes should enact them and those with statutes should re-examine them for unfair restrictions. Statutes should establish a fixed sum or range of recovery for each year of incarceration. States should provide immediate assistance and access to services to those exonerated and released from prison.
Wrongful conviction is the worst malfunction of a criminal justice system. We now have no doubt that wrongful conviction happens more frequently than imagined, in the United States and around the world. The work to reduce tragic outcomes in criminal justice is ongoing; in the meantime, we must compensate and seek to restore as much as possible those who have been the unfortunate victims of the criminal justice system.