Washington State Proposes Compensation for Wrongly Convicted

Currently 23 states do not provide compensation for exonerated felons.

ByABC News
January 29, 2011, 11:05 AM

Jan. 29 — -- The day Alan Northrop's rape conviction was overturned -- the day an innocent man walked out of prison after serving 17 years for a crime he didn't commit -- is the day the state of Washington considered its debt to him paid.

"I got no apology, no nothing, no offer of any kind of financial aid," Northrop said.

With no job, no training, and no work experience save for the time he spent working in the prison kitchen for $55 a month, Northrop was released with only a few dollars to his name. He owed more than $100,000 in back child support he had been unable to pay while incarcerated, and had to move in with his brother because he could not afford a place of his own.

It is Northrop's case, along with those of three other men recently exonerated in the state, which inspired Washington State Senator Jim Hargrove to co-sponsor legislation that would compensate the wrongly convicted.

"They have lost opportunities in training, they get out and they have nothing, don't have much of their lives left in some cases," Hargrove said. "Having some resources to get started so they can get on with their lives is the right thing to do."

Hargrove's bill would pay those found to be innocent up to $20,000 per year for each year they spent behind bars, including time spent waiting for trial. Washington is one of 23 states that do not currently provide such compensation, according to the National Innocence Project. Most of the other 27 states and the District of Columbia pay a set amount per year served to those later found to be innocent.

The federal government awards $50,000 per year in prison to the wrongly convicted, plus an additional $50,000 per year served on death row. The Innocence Project would like to see this become the national standard. The Washington State bill falls far short of that.

"We tried to figure out, if you were on minimum wage as a full-time employee, that's how much you would have made," Hargrove said. "We tried to bring them up to that amount."