A little more than half of the country–27 states, to be exact–provide some sort of compensation to those who have been wrongfully imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. Colorado is currently not included in that number. Some of the state’s attorneys hope to change that.
While finally gaining freedom is a dream for those in jail for crimes they did not commit, the realization that they typically do not have the tools to succeed on the outside sets in quickly. Leaving prison with just the clothes they walked in with doesn’t provide a place to stay or a way to make a living. Even though ultimately found innocent, potential employers still learn of years in prison and continue their search for candidates elsewhere.
The economic realities of life outside of prison, as well as compensation for years gone by in prison that can never be replaced, are reasons why attorneys in Colorado want to make a change in the system.
Rebecca Brown, director of state policy reform for the Innocence Project, says the organization does what it can within this reality.
“We obviously do what we can to help folks make ends meet immediately after they’ve been released, including identification, if they need glasses.”
“If there’s no compensation framework or statutory framework in place in a particular state, that person [wrongly convicted] is sort of…stuck.”
And “stuck” is where Robert Dewey currently finds himself.
Dewey was recently exonerated of murder charges in Mesa County, Colorado, after spending 17 years in prison. As it currently stands, the state isn’t obligated to give him anything. Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger isn’t sure why Colorado doesn’t have any sort of compensation framework in place, pondering, “Maybe it is because we haven’t been confronted with the issue until recently,” in reference to Dewey’s case.
Hautzinger wants to assist those who have been wrongly convicted of crimes to get back on their feet and start afresh. He believes that many other DAs in the state will want to help as well.
“I think we are pretty strongly inclined to be supportive of some new legislation that would create a mechanism. We are going to meet in the summer and talk about it more, and then hopefully find some legislators to sponsor the legislation.”
Brown has a specific guideline in mind.
“At minimum, states should be providing $50,000 per year for wrongful imprisonment, untaxed. “
Legislating a framework for payment in a challenging economic climate will be difficult, but hopefully the importance of doing right by those who have faced significant wrong by the justice system will be recognized.