Thousands of innocent people may be currently serving time in prison throughout the country. Newly exonerated prisoners may face challenges in society.
Our country's justice system was created to protect the public from being the victims of crimes. However, what if the justice system contributed toward victimizing innocent people? This is tragically the case for countless people across the United States, who were convicted of a crime despite having done nothing wrong. According to the Innocence Project, at least 20,000 wrongfully convicted people in states across the country, including Illinois, are currently serving time in prison. The organization estimates that up to 5 percent of all U.S. prisoners are innocent.
How do innocent people end up going to prison for a crime they did not commit? Numerous factors can result in a false conviction. These can include faulty forensic evidence, false witness testimony or identification and untruthful informants. Defendants may also be pressured or tricked by investigators into making a false confession during abusive interrogation practices. Most falsely convicted prisoners end up spending an average of 13.5 years behind bars before being liberated. Some have spent up to 35 years in prison, essentially having their entire lives taken from them. To date, the Innocence Project has helped to exonerate 330 people across the country after providing new proof of innocence through DNA.
Wrongful conviction statutes in Illinois
Some states provide compensation for the wrongfully convicted after being exonerated, states CNN. However, many other states offer no compensation at all. Illinois statutes designate a monetary payment between $85,350 for innocent people serving up to five years and $199,150 for over 14 years in prison. Job placement services and a portion of attorney fee reimbursement may also be offered.
However, an Illinois man recently won the largest wrongful conviction settlement in American history, reported the New York Daily News. The man was imprisoned nearly two decades for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl after being tried and convicted three times for the crime. He claims he was coerced into a false confession after suffering four days of intensive interrogation. In 2012, DNA evidence suggested someone else was responsible for the crime, and the man was freed. He filed a federal lawsuit against his prosecutors and the police involved in his conviction, which was settled for $20 million.
Challenges the recently freed face
Many say that no amount of money can make up for the time lost and trauma suffered during and after incarceration. According to USA Today, exonerees face numerous challenges and setbacks after being freed, including the following:
- Difficulty finding employment and housing
- Post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental conditions
- Lack of medical insurance or mental health services
- Social stigma of having spent time in prison
- Not seeing their children grow up
- Lack of education or job skills to make a living
Additionally, they may have difficulty adjusting to a confusing and overwhelming world, especially if they have spent a lengthy amount of time in prison.
Those who have been accused of crimes have the right to defend themselves. It may be in their best interests to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Keywords: wrongful, conviction, prison, exoneration