One of the most egregious errors that can happen in the administering of law and justice is to send someone to prison for a crime they didn't commit.
The cases of innocent men and women serving time behind bars for the crimes of others are rare. Nevertheless, they happen.
Thanks to the ability to revisit evidence in disputed cases by taking DNA samples from victims and the accused, many of the convictions of innocent people are overturned and the people are set free.
Too often, these former inmates are left to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives with very little help. A simple “sorry” is not enough to undo the damage of being wrongly convicted.
With that in mind, state Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, is introducing a bill this legislative session that would recompense wrongfully imprisoned inmates for the time they spent behind bars.
The bill would provide $50,000 per year spent in prison to inmates found innocent of a crime and an additional $50,000 for every year spent on death row. In addition, the bill calls for compensation of $25,000 for each year on community supervision or as a registered sex offender.
Also under consideration would be state funding for health care, payment of child support obligations prisoners accumulated while in prison and free tuition at state for former prisoners and their children.
The details of the compensation need to be debated and discussed by lawmakers. And when payment would begin could be complicated by the massive state budget deficit. Orwall is proposing payments wouldn’t begin until 2014 when the state presumably will be in better financial shape.
Regardless of the details the general idea of financial restitution for wrongful imprisonment has merit. The current standard for an exonerated prisoner to sue for damages is just too hard to meet — they must prove intentional misconduct by law enforcement officials.
Exonerated inmates deserve compensation for time spent behind bars. State lawmakers should find it in their hearts, and in the state budget, to take action.