The WTI Federal Compensation Campaign
Did you know that many exonerated death row survivors receive $0 in compensation for their time spent on death row?
Even in states that have compensation laws on the books for those who were wrongfully convicted, some refuse to pay out to exonerated death row survivors in spite of the horrors they faced. There are complex reasons for this – arcane and arbitrary loopholes in state laws exploited by prosecutors, courts, and lawmakers; laws that are not retroactive; perceived public unpopularity of such programs and the pressure to “look tough on crime;” just plain old spite against economically and racially marginalized people who don’t have resources to fight back, with some exceptions – the list goes on.
Moreover, exonerees are often denied access to re-entry programs and state aid for the formerly incarcerated that do exist, precisely because they were exonerated. Because of this, they suffer from PTSD and other serious health issues, very limited employment prospects, lack of access to training programs, and challenges with securing and keeping stable housing, among other roadblocks to reclaiming a semblance of a normal life after death row.
So imagine spending five, ten, fifteen, even twenty years of your life on death row, given $100 (if you are lucky) and a bus ticket, and then sent on your way to recover your mental, physical, and financial well-being with no assistance. It’s not just a matter of money; it is also a matter of access to services and resources to help rebuild all aspects of your life to become a functional, healthy, and contributing member of our society.
People exonerated from death row are routinely denied the basic tools they need to successfully reintegrate into society, and are not paid the monetary compensation they deserve for their past suffering. It isn’t right. It is grotesquely unjust. It is a damning indictment of the death penalty system in the United States. And it is extremely shortsighted public policy.
Given our states’ woefully poor and uneven record in compensating and assisting exonerated death row survivors, WTI has launched a campaign to win federal compensation for them. The campaign consists of meetings and testimony to key members and committees of Congress, a media and public speaking strategy targeting core constituencies and the general public, and outreach and collaboration with others who have been wrongfully convicted and denied compensation after being released from prison.
We will update this page with news on the campaign, along with other items of interest and updates on the issue of compensating the wrongfully convicted. Click on this report on how the lack of compensation has impacted our members' lives prepared by one of our awesome former interns, JoAnn Melina Lopez.
As a country, we need to be doing better on this issue. Regardless of your views on the death penalty, and whatever your political allegiances, we can all agree that some form of federal compensation is the least we owe to our fellow citizens sent to death row for a crime they did not commit.
Most recently, the Department of Justice held a listening session in February 2016 where four Witness to Innocence exoneree members were able to speak about the needs of exonerees after release from prison. See this letter the DOJ sent to Nathson Fields, Chair of the Witness to Innocence Federal Compensation Campaign, as a follow up to that meeting.