Lansing — The Michigan House on Wednesday approved a plan to compensate wrongfully convicted individuals by paying them $50,000 for each year they spent in prison, sending the bill to Gov. Rick Snyder for signature.
The bipartisan legislation, advanced in a 104-2 vote, would create the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act and establish a procedure for exonerated individuals to request compensation through the Michigan Court of Claims.
The plan is more than 12 years in the making for sponsoring Sen. Steve Bieda, who has introduced similar proposals each session since he was elected to the state Legislature.
“It’s a very important statement to make as a state, and it’s just a fair thing to do,” said Bieda, D-Warren. “This is a justice issue, and we have to give justice to these individuals who were denied their freedom.”
The legislation would benefit people like Julie Baumer of Roseville, who spent four years in prison on a felony child abuse conviction that was overturned in 2010 with help from attorneys at the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic.
Detroit resident Davontae Sanford, 23, walked out of prison in June after spending eight years behind bars for a series of killings to which a known hit man later confessed.
There have been 66 exonerations in the state since 1991, according to a national registry maintained by the University of Michigan. Those individuals spent a combined 511 years behind bars for crimes they did not commit.
An estimated 33 exonerated individuals would qualify for compensation under the new legislation, costing the state at least $12.8 million.
If a court confirms an individual was wrongfully imprisoned, he or she would receive $50,000 in compensation for each year in prison, or a fraction of that if they spent less than a year behind bars, in addition to attorney fees. A person could not be compensated for time served concurrently on any separate conviction that was not reversed.
Also Wednesday, the House unanimously approved a bill that would require the Michigan Department of Corrections to provide exonerated individuals with the same type of re-entry services as it provides to people released on parole. That measure now heads to the Senate for consideration.
“I think that it is appropriate that as we seek to compensate individuals for the time they wrongly spent in prison, we also need to make sure that their needs are met,” said Rep. Stephanie Chang, the Detroit Democrat who sponsored the re-entry bill.
“In many cases, it was our own failures as a state that led to the unjust loss of these individuals’ freedom, and so we must do all that we can to help exonerees get back on their feet when they return to their communities.”