Thursday, March 1, 2012--5:35p.m.
MADISON--Being convicted of a crime you didn't commit, and then spending years behind bars as a result, is a nightmare scenario for pretty much anyone. But now some are trying to give extra support to those wrongly convicted.
Right now, those exonerated for a wrongful conviction can receive compensation for the time they spent imprisoned. But it's capped at $5,000 a year--maxing out at $25,000 total.
But a bill now before state legislators would raise the rate to $50,000 a year--with no overall cap.
One supporter, Chris Ochoa, was himself wrongly convicted--in Texas. The Wisconsin Innocence Project helped get him exonerated and he came to U-W Madison for law school. He said the support can help exonerees become productive members of society. "You took somebody's freedom, somebody's freedom and that 50,000 goes a long way to establish an exoneree to get his independence, to not be dependent on society forever," said Ochoa, who spent 12 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.
"The sad reality is in Wisconsin right now, that if you're actually guilty of a crime and released on parole or extended supervision, you get more support from the state than if you're actually innocent," said Keith Findley, the co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. "If you're innocent, they just open up the prison doors and say 'have a good life'." Findley said the bill would also provide a range of social services: everything from housing and employment assistance to health care.
Findley said the project has exonerated about 14 people during the last 13 or 14 years.