Depressing U.S. Prison Story of the Day: Released Innocent Prisoners Get Less Help Than the Guilty

In a country of two million-plus jailed individuals, one might think that the least the state could do when they get the wrong guy or gal is to is to pay through the nose, or do anything to help that state-sanctioned kidnap victim try to get their life back.

But whoops, says USA Today, turns out if you were innocent all along, that may not mean much. Indeed, even if you were jailed for a federal crime that turned out to not have been proper, well, good luck with that. Back in June, Reason's Scott Shackford related USA Today's investigation into the fact that 60 individuals in North Carolina were put into prison for being felons in possession of firearms, even though, that was not a federal crime. The details of the wonky law's federal versus state clashes can be found at the above links...

The point at the moment is that with some of these folks (17 so far, with 12 more with their convictions overturned) finally being released, well, turns out there are fewer options than you might hope for them getting their feet back on thr ground.

Most of them have received little more than a bus ticket. Federal law does not require the government to help them search for jobs or find basic necessities such as clothing and a place to live, assistance the guilty routinely receive during their post-prison supervision, partly to keep them from returning to crime.

[...]

...The U.S. Justice Department had originally argued that they should remain in prison anyway, but reversed its position last month "in the interests of justice," according to court records.

At least 10 states provide services such as job training, health care and housing assistance to wrongfully convicted prisoners, according to an Innocence Project study. Most states and the federal government also provide some help in finding social services once someone serves his full prison sentence and is released on parole or supervision, though that help is not available to people whose convictions are overturned.

Compensation for the time they were locked up is even less likely. Federal law permits the government to pay people up to $50,000 for every year they were wrongly imprisoned, but the ex-prisoners -- almost all of whom could have been convicted of state crimes with lesser penalties -- are unlikely to meet its strict eligibility requirements.

"Exonarees fall into this hole where there really isn't a re-entry program for them. Their path to re-entry is often more difficult than someone who has legitimately served time," said Michele Berry, an Ohio lawyer who has handled wrongful conviction cases there. She said that means prisoners freed because they are innocent could have a harder time after they are released than guilty inmates who finish their sentences.

The rest here. More hideous tales of the U.S's prison addiction can be found all over Reason, particularly in our July, 2011 print issue. 

The thing about the prison-industrial complex is how perfectly it encapsulates the fact that government always wins. Or rather, ordinary people will always bare the burden of government mistakes. If you suffer the unimaginable horror of being jailed for something you did not do (or something that shouldn't be a crime at all... ), you absolutely deserve payment for your stolen years. But who will pay? Taxpayers, of course. Never bad cops, bad prosecutors, or bad judges. 

Another disturbing, rarely-remembered facet of incarceration nation, can be found over at Mother Jones where James Ridgeway writes about "The Other Death Sentence," the grim fact of what caring for elderly lifers in prison means. It's essential reading if you're worried about this issue, and even if you have trouble sympathizing with actual murderers, no matter how old and feeble they may be. 

In June, Ridgeway talked to Nick Gillespie and Reason TV about solitary confinement and whether it counts as torture. 

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  • GILMORE||

    Released Innocent Prisoners Get Less Help Than the Guilty

    Well, if you think about it, it kind of makes sense. I mean, they went and wasted *so many people's time* with their non-crime. I'd be pissed the non-criminal was eating up all that taxpayer funded jailhouse buffet as well.

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    ^^this^^

  • GILMORE||

    Don't even get me started on all the complementary manrape. They should get a bill when released

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    STEVE SMITH HELP DELIVER "BILLS" AFTER RELEASE.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Do you think they get sent a bill for the free room and board they got?

    I almost meant that seriously. Jesus, we are far gone.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    If you can't do the time you shouldn't do something prosecutors can mistake for a crime.

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    Excuse me - but if you've done nothing wrong....duh.

    Obviously, these people did SOMETHING wrong, and got off on a technicality.

    Next time, perps - next time.

  • ||

    The thing about the prison-industrial complex is how perfectly it encapsulates the fact that government always wins

    Not the government. The government employees. They pay zero price for making a mistake (or even maliciously prosecuting or eliciting confessions or whatever), whether it be criminal punishment, financial penalties, or even being simply fired.

    There is absolutely no incentive to not wrongly imprison (other than personal morality, and we've seen what that tends to be with prosecutors and cops), and there are in fact incentives for maximum imprisonment (padding a DA's resume, running for office as "tough on crime", prison guard employment, "private" prison income, you name it). And the fact of the matter is, the people who inhabit this system, the clerks, the judges, the lawyers, the guards, the bailiffs, the cops, etc., if they ever gave a shit at all they stop giving a shit after a while because they get numb to it.

    It's disgusting. But at its core is the incarceration of so many for non-violent, consensual "crimes". Even without that, there would still be mistaken convictions, but at least there would be far less harmless people in prison.

  • Sam Grove||

    Or rather, ordinary people will always bare the burden of government mistakes.

    Sorry, I just couldn't let that slide.

    Border guard stops woman carrying bundle: "OK, bare your burden, I want to see what's in there."

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    I wonder what would happen were I to be severely fucked over by the "justice system"? I can assure that it would not be pleasant for anyone responsible.

  • Tulpa Doom||

    Pepper sprayed UC Davis ne'er-do-wells hit the jackpot.

    In the settlement, each student who filed suit will each receive $30,000 and a handwritten apology from UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi.

    Student Ian Lee was a freshman when he was pepper sprayed.

    "The reason we were protesting was that the university has proposed unfair and unreasonable tuition hikes," Lee said.

    Guess where that $30K is coming from, moron?

  • ||

    Those kids will burn through that $30K like it was a bong load.

    I bet many of them spend it buying new cars.

  • sarcasmic||

    +42 to alt-text

  • ant1sthenes||

    The U.S. Justice Department had originally argued that [the people who were convicted of a non-existent crime] should remain in prison anyway,

    Can we at least rename it the Ministry of Justice?

  • Seamus||

    Or Ministry of Love.

  • ||

    "The thing about the prison-industrial complex is how perfectly it encapsulates the fact that government always wins. Or rather, ordinary people will always bare the burden of government mistakes. If you suffer the unimaginable horror of being jailed for something you did not do (or something that shouldn't be a crime at all... ), you absolutely deserve payment for your stolen years. But who will pay? Taxpayers, of course. Never bad cops, bad prosecutors, or bad judges. "

    the problem with a statement like this is that it implies that if a person is imprisoned for a crime they didn't do, that there was necessarily malfeasance (bad cop, bad prosecutor, bad judges) etc.

    that is OFTEN true, but it's not necessarily true. simply put, one can be convicted in many ways where the STATE (to include govt. appointed defense attorneys) act well, BUT other factors are present.

    first, there are cases where victims aren't really victims but simply lie and make shit up and the jury buys it. given a reasonably convincing performance and especially if there is corroborating evidence (i have investigated cases before where it turned out a "victim" self inflicted injuries. but what about the cases where they self inflicted and we didn't find out?), one can get convicted based on that.

    no prosecutor, cop, judge, defense attorney etc. screw up. just a bad set of circumstances and a (imo) false witness that should go to prison for a very long time.

  • ||

    then, there are the you are totally in the wrong place at the wrong time cases. again, our court system requires guilt beyond reasonable doubt. this is a high standard but it does not eliminate the possibility, and given sufficient "n", the CERTAINTY that entirely innocent people will be convicted of something they never did. it happens.

    i would guess the majority of "bad" convictions involve at LEAST one or more of the following: bad cops, bad prosecutor, bad judge, bad defense attorney.

    however, it is not a given that any of the above must be present for an innocent to be convicted.

    should a person imprisoned under the 2nd scenario above (iow no fault of the state whatsoever) receive payouts from the state? if so, why?

    what about the first?

    at the arrest level, LOTS of people are arrested who are in fact innocent. and that's not usually because of any govt. misconduct. it's merely lying "victims", "bad circs", etc. probable cause is not that high a standard.

    at the conviction level, it's obviously much less. a lot of "this case is bullshit" cases fall apart before trial or during trial, thankfully, but not all of them.

  • Deep Lurker||

    "the problem with a statement like this is that it implies that if a person is imprisoned for a crime they didn't do, that there was necessarily malfeasance (bad cop, bad prosecutor, bad judges) etc."

    That shouldn't matter. Convicting an innocent ought to be a crime of strict liability for the police and prosecutors involved, with no need to show malice or mens rea. After all, we peasants have to suffer under laws of strict liability - and even under laws that reverse the presumption of innocence. There are laws where it's not enought to be innocent of bad acts, but where you can be convicted and jailed for not having the proper, government-required proof of your innocence.

    I think it would be just dandy if the police and prosecutors had to swallow some of that same bitter medicine.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Convicting an innocent ought to be a crime of strict liability for the police and prosecutors involved, with no need to show malice or mens rea.

    How about the jurors, too, since it was ultimately their decision?

  • TinkRow||

    Wow thats messed up man and the Feds have nothing but sparetime on their hands!

    www.PrivacyCrew.tk

  • ||

    The U.S. Justice Department had originally argued that they should remain in prison anyway, but reversed its position last month "in the interests of justice," according to court records.

    These are some morally fucked up motherfuckers. I'm trying hard not to Godwin but fuck.

  • ||

    Seriously, you can't sue for wrongful imprisonment?

    I remember something like this happened when I was a teenager in Canada. A guy had spent something like 8-20 years in prison on a rape-murder charge he didn't commit. He'd always maintained his innocence and eventually was exonerated by DNA evidence. He got (IIRC) an $8 million settlement.

  • ||

    Oh yeah, it was David Milgaard.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/.....l#milgaard

  • The Late P Brooks||

    You can't hold the cops responsible; they're just obeying orders.

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