Editorial: Michigan takes step toward justice

The Detroit News

A bill to compensate wrongfully convicted individuals with $50,000 for each year they spent in prison has now been passed by both legislative chambers and is headed to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk. It’s a step toward righting the wrong that was done to them by the justice system.

There is currently no means for repaying innocent convicts for the years that were stolen from them.

While $50,000 for each year they were cheated of freedom and time with their families isn’t enough, it’s a good start.

In many cases, even after they are exonerated, the punishment continues. Stigmas attached to serving time in prison, even wrongfully, are hard to overcome. The inmates often lose connections to the outside world, including custody of children. And the state provides little education and job training to those serving lengthy terms.

Financial compensation can help cover costs for re-establishing an inmate in society, including housing, transportation and basic necessities. It can also pay for workforce development skills and legal services such as expunging criminal records.

Michigan is currently one of just 19 states that doesn’t have a compensation statute, according to the Innocence Project at the University of Michigan.

According to a national registry run by UM, 66 convicts have been exonerated in Michigan since 1991.

Together, they spent 511 years locked up for crimes the didn’t commit.

Under the new legislation, 33 of them would qualify for compensation, at a cost to the state of $12.8 million.

The newly passed legislation creates the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act and sets up a process to request compensation through the Michigan Court of Claims.

A separate bill that has passed the House would also require the Michigan Department of Corrections to provide exonerated individuals re-entry services and other benefits offered to people who are released on parole. It will have to be revived when the new Legislature convenes in January.

For those who have been wrongfully convicted, state compensation could mean the difference in successfully re-entering society.

This is a debt owed by a state that failed to get justice right the first time.