States should pay wrongly convicted

Posted: Monday, June 17, 2002

Convicts who lose years of life behind bars for crimes they did not commit should be compensated. Period. And they shouldn't have to go to court to fight for it. It should be automatic.

Most people who go to prison lose everything. When they get out they have few or no assets. When the government wrongly takes away someone's ability to earn a living, enjoy friends and family, or build a life, then the government needs to make up for that immediately upon the person's release.

Yet, only 15 states have laws that compensate those who have been wrongly convicted. ...

Most states treat them more like an ''oops'' than the tragedies they are. ...

We're not qualified to put a dollar amount on being forced behind bars, but there are actuaries who are. Many people in prison are sexually and physically abused, compounding the injury of unfair incarceration.

In fact, there is really nothing society can do to compensate people who are wrongly convicted. That's one big reason why our criminal justice system puts such a strong burden of proof on the prosecution. The silver lining may be that technology, especially using DNA evidence, will force a decrease in the number of innocents behind bars.

In the meantime, our states owe them compensation for what they have endured. That must come at a level that will allow them to rebuild their lives.

-- The Bellingham (Wash.) Herald

June 10

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