Sunday, March 21, 2010

Life After Exoneration

Exonerated after 27 years in prison, Earl Truvia and Gregory Bright
were given a $10 check and a bag of clothes, and released barefoot.


2.2 million people are locked up in jails and prisons across America. By the most conservative estimates, thousands of them are innocent of the crime for which they were convicted. Recently, hundreds of these men and women have been released from prison, after providing the evidence of their innocence.

Normally receiving no assistance – financial or otherwise – the exonerated, robbed of, on average, 12.5 years, their life in ruins, "freedom" amounts to enduring more pain and suffering from the many injustices experienced at the hands of the state, over more than a decade ago.

Starting over can be a very lonely and often dismal struggle, as they try to clear their name, seek employment, find housing, rebuild relationships with family and friends and in general, establish themselves and learn to navigate in a world that has left them behind.

Barriers to employment - entitlement issues, mental health symptoms brought about by wrongful imprisonment (PTSD), a lack of education, a lack of or outdated skills, a criminal record that still carries a felony conviction, no credit or job history, etc. - often puts them in a position of simply struggling to survive.

With the advancement of technology, America’s number of exonerees, as a result of their wrongful conviction will continue to increase. Leaving them to face the deplorable long-term consequences when released from prison is unconscionable.

On April 23, 2009, the Restitution for the Exonerated Act of 2009 was introduced to Congress and on May 26, 2009 it was referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

This bill authorizes the Attorney General to award grants and supplemental funds to nonprofit organizations to be used only to provide support services (e.g., employment training, health care services, and legal assistance) to exonerees. Prohibits services for exonerees who have not demonstrated financial need or for a period of more than 24 months. Defines "exoneree" as an individual who has been convicted of a crime carrying a prison sentence of one year or more, has served at least six months of such prison sentence, and has been determined to be factually innocent of the crime.

If passed, the Restitution for the Exonerated Act of 2009 will be a cornerstone for this nation’s capacity to meaningfully assist the wrongfully convicted, who are abandoned by the U.S. criminal justice system once they manage to prove their innocence and regain their freedom. Left to fend for themselves, many exonerees live in poverty today, depending on others to survive. and has been urging Congress to make federal funding available for services to the exonerated.

The Life After Exoneration Program addresses the injustices faced by the wrongfully convicted and incarcerated after they are released from prison.

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