I used to think that everyone in prison should be there, but when I was in prison, I realized how wrong I was. Most people in prison are for non-violent crimes. Usually, in my opinion, the only victim of a “crime” is the state.
This is my situation. When 12 marijuana plants were found in my roommate’s closet, I was arrested and charged with manufacturing a controlled substance. So I ended up getting two 15-year sentences.
There are so many people in jail for non-violent drug crimes. After 50+ years of the war on drugs, I think it’s safe to say we should be looking for other ways to deal with addicts and people with mental health issues.
However, that is not the focus of this blog post. In addition to non-violent criminals who have no victims, there are also people in prison who have completely failed to commit the crime for which they were convicted. It happens more often than you might think. But once you’ve been found guilty and in jail, it’s nearly impossible to reverse it. So what happens if you’re found innocent after going to jail?
In today’s blog post, I will cover the following topics:
- Appeals can last for years
- Innocence doesn’t have to mean getting out of jail
- Many states have written laws to compensate people who are wrongly accused
Appeals can last for years
Studies show that between 2% and 5% of people in US prisons are actually innocent. Since 1989, more than 250 people in 34 states have been exonerated and released from prison through post-conviction DNA testing, but it will take years to achieve both.
For example, a man named Kenny Waters was charged with the 1980 murder of Katherina Reitz Brow, who was stabbed to death in her Massachusetts home. Kenny was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Although Kenny did not commit a crime, he spent 18 years in prison fighting to clear his name. He appealed several times and was dismissed. The key to his situation is getting outside help, which is really hard to do.
His older sister, Betty Anne Waters, went back to school for a college degree and a law degree with the goal of getting her brother released. Nearly two decades after Kenny’s conviction, Betty Anne was able to overturn the conviction based on DNA evidence.
She works with the Innocence Project to run a DNA test that proves Kenny’s innocence.The case was made into a movie convictionstarring Hilary Swank.
What I am trying to say is that the state can easily convict someone and put them in jail. But overturning someone’s belief is so rare that when it happens, they make movies about it.
To make matters worse, up to 40% of people are released after being wrongly convicted and imprisoned Get zero financial compensation. Can you imagine if this happened to you?
Innocence doesn’t have to mean getting out of jail
Prison inmates exonerated by DNA testing spend an average of 14 years behind bars before being released. But there is no guarantee they will be released, even if the evidence after conviction bears this out.
This reminds me of the story of Kevin Stickland, who has been in a Missouri prison since he was convicted of a triple murder in 1979. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In 2021, the Jackson County prosecutor’s office — which put Strickland behind bars four decades ago — admitted they had made a mistake.
Current Jackson County Attorney Jean Peters Baker has issued a public apology to the man she believes was wrongly convicted.
“My job is to apologize,” she said. “It’s important to recognize when the system goes wrong … what we did in this case was wrong. So, to Mr. Strickland, I’m deeply sorry.”
However, Strickland remains in prison. The same goes for Lamar Johnson, who was convicted of murder in 1994 but was later found innocent. The problem in my home state of Missouri is that the attorney general doesn’t want to admit that the state made mistakes.
Strickland’s attorney noted that in both cases, the real killer pleaded guilty, and that have served their sentence For murder. But the attorney general said time was running out to release Strickland and Johnson. Although they are all innocent.
At the end of the day, both Strickland and Johnson missed state-mandated deadlines. This means that despite their innocence, they will spend the rest of their lives in prison.
Many states have written laws to compensate people who are wrongly accused
Currently, 37 states and Washington, D.C. have laws that provide compensation to released prisoners. The federal compensation standard is $50,000 a year in prison, plus additional payments if they spend time on death row.
The following 13 states don’t want There are indemnity laws: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming.
That means if you’re wrongly convicted and locked up in one of those states, you’re out of luck. Like Floyd Bledsoe of Oscaroosa, Kansas, who spent 16 years in prison for murder but eventually confessed. He had to fight for financial compensation.
“Before I was locked up, I had 40 acres of land, livestock, wife and children,” he said. “When I was released, I had nothing… I lost my family, my job, my reputation — everything.”
“When an innocent person is deprived of liberty because of a wrongful conviction, regardless of fault, the government has a duty to do everything in its power to facilitate that person’s re-entry to help restore some sense of justice,” said Maddy deLone, The Innocence Project executive director. “Fair compensation is part of that.”
How much money should a person get when they are wrongly convicted? Should it be based on jail time? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Time Doesn't Pay, Wrongfully Imprisoned Find Why are wrongfully imprisoned people still imprisoned in Missouri? More than 2,800 have been wrongly convicted in the US. Lawmakers and advocates want to make sure they're paid their dues What Do States Owe People Who Are Wrongfully Convicted? The Price of Freedom: What Happens to the Wrongfully Convicted? Compensating the Wrongfully Convicted