Will Michigan Prisoners Who are Exonerated Finally Be Treated as Fairly as Parolees?

Of all 50 states in the U.S., 20 do not compensate those who are wrongly convicted of crimes and ultimately set free – Michigan is one of those states. However, a bill is on the table that could hopefully change how exonerees are treated if it is voted on by the House and signed by Governor Snyder, which could potentially happen in just a few months.

Unfortunately for individuals who have been wrongly convicted of even the most serious crimes, Senate Bill 291 has been floating around Lansing for 13 years, since 2003. If the bill passes, exonerees would be compensated $60,000 per year for each year spent in prison after being wrongfully convicted. In addition, those wrongly convicted would receive lost wages and other “economic damages” along with attorney fees according to Michiganvotes.org/2015-SB-291.

It seems ironic that while individuals who have been wrongly convicted (and there are MANY) have received nothing all of these years, while parolees have help obtaining housing, clothing, employment, transportation, and more. In fact, the Reentry Program will spend more than $13 million this year paying to help parolees get back on their feet, while those exonerated get nothing – except for heartache, of course.

In June, 23-year-old Devontae Sanford was released from state prison after serving almost nine years for allegedly murdering four people. Sanford was wrongly convicted, and of course received nothing, not even an apology, from the state of Michigan. No one can imagine the hardships those released from prison face unless you’ve been in their shoes. No compensation, no job, and for those who have been imprisoned for a substantial number of years, the world is an entirely different place given the explosion in technology. Many even live under a cloud of suspicion for the rest of their lives.

Sanford was released from Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia after being found guilty for the 2007 quadruple murders at a drug house on Detroit’s east side. He was 14 years old when he was arrested, and the judge vacated his 37 to 90 year prison sentence on June 9, 2016. Ultimately, two other men were found guilty of the four killings, one of the men even insisting repeatedly that Sanford was not involved and that the deaths were the result of a fight between drug dealers.

In April of last year Senator Steve Bieda (D) introduced Senate Bill 291 which would authorize wrongful imprisonment compensation. On June 9th of this year, the bill passed 37 to 0 in the Senate. The bill is now on its way to the House, where it will hopefully be passed sooner rather than later.

Countless individuals sit behind bars today for crimes they did not commit, not only in Michigan but across the country. Sometimes it is the work of vigorous prosecutors and crafty law enforcement officials who put innocent people behind bars; perhaps in some cases the defense attorney is at least partially to blame. Jurors can also make mistakes, as can judges or anyone else in the criminal justice system. Hopefully it won’t be long before those who are exonerated will be treated with at least some semblance of respect, as parolees are.

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