Kenneth Ireland was 18 years old when he was sent to jail for 21 years, until DNA testing conducted on crime scene evidence exonerated him. While no price can be placed on freedom, Ireland left prison with nothing but the clothes on his back and shoes on his feet.
Somehow, Kenneth Ireland was expected to just carry on, as if the preceding two decades of his life hadn’t been taken from him.
Ireland is seeking $8 million from the state Office of Claims Commissioner in Connecticut because of his ordeal. While he is taking the appropriate steps to seek damages, the process is very slow. In most cases, it takes up to three years for an exoneree to receive any money for the years lost in prison. This is a serious issue, as theses individuals are most in need of money upon release.
Timothy S. Fisher, president of the Connecticut Bar Foundation, said that attorneys are planning to raise the issue of having exonerees receive an early cash stipend during next year’s legislative session. However, next year remains a long way off. So the Foundation, in partnership with Community Partners in Action, a nonprofit that works with people in the criminal justice system, has created the Connecticut Innocence Fund to help the newly exonerated begin to rebuild their lives.
The fund will be established through tax-deductible contributions. Once an exoneree receives their compensations from the state, the fund will be replenished. Though there are currently several organizations in Connecticut and throughout other states that help exonerees with job placement and social services, none provide money for short term needs, said Fisher. He says that the fund has raised $25,000 already, with hopes that it reach $50,000.
In a recent interview, Ireland said that he was moved by the support that he received from lawyers and others following his release from prison. Community Partners in Action gave him a cash stipend and lawyers helped Ireland obtain legal documents including a driver’s license.
And aid from the Connecticut Innocence Project didn’t stop with his release. Those with the Project helped Ireland get back on his feet in a number of ways, including getting him a loaner car from the parents of an intern with the organization. “I didn’t own anything when I got out,” Ireland said. “The support I received from lots of different people was amazing.”