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Lawmakers Look To Increase Compensation For Wrongful Convictions

Wisconsin Pays Innocent Prisoners Less Than Any Other State

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In Wisconsin, the amount of money available to compensate people who serve time in prison for a crime they didn’t commit is the lowest in the country. A bill that would increase the amount tenfold is set to get a hearing in the state Capitol Wednesday.

Efforts to boost compensation for wrongful conviction have failed to get traction over the past few years. But this bill has bipartisan support. It would increase the current $5,000 a year for each year of incarceration to $50,000, with a cap set at $1 million. That’s the same amount available to people wrongfully convicted of a federal crime.

It would also be retroactive back to 1990, meaning the new compensation level would be available to those like Jarett Adams who spent 10 years in prison for a 1998 rape he didn’t commit. He’s rebuilt his life since his release but he said there are plenty of others who haven’t.

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“Those people are still out here right now living in shelters and bouncing from trailer parks, from home to home,” Adams said. “It makes no sense for you to do this deal if you don’t make it retroactive. That would be just like Abraham Lincoln saying, ‘yeah slavery is over with from this point on, but all the other slaves who are still slaves, tough luck.’”

Keith Findley of the Wisconsin Innocence Project said it also includes support services to help exonerees reenter society.

“Right now the system doesn’t do anything to provide them with counseling, vocational services, health care, housing, whatever it may be so you are literally better off, you get more support from the state if you are guilty and released than if you’re innocent and exonerated,” said Findley.

The bill doesn’t apply to people who go on to commit a serious crime after they’re exonerated, Findley said.