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Exonerated WI man faces more difficulties than paroled offenders

A couple months ago, we wrote about the fact that no state offers less compensation to wrongfully convicted/imprisoned individuals than Wisconsin (except for states offering no compensation whatsoever). And wrongful convictions happen more than you might realize. Since 1989, DNA evidence has been used to exonerate at least 21 wrongfully convicted individuals in Wisconsin.

Among the most recent exonerees is a man named Joe. He was cleared with help from the Wisconsin Innocence Project after spending about 20 years in prison for a rape he did not commit. His struggles after being exonerated highlight the fact that wrongfully convicted individuals often face more struggles after release than inmates who serve their time and are let out on parole.

After a UW-Oshkosh student was raped at knife-point in the early 1990s, police were unable to close the case for about three years. They finally charged Joe with the crime, and he was hastily convicted and sentenced to 102 years in prison.

The Wisconsin Innocence Project recently helped clear his name by retesting a piece of DNA evidence that linked the crime back to another man who has since been convicted of sexually assaulting two minors. Joe was let out of prison but he remains far from free.

He was released with no home, almost no money and no health insurance. He suffers from several serious medical conditions.

A University of Wisconsin law professor who helped exonerate him explained that "Joe was released, but he was released without a dollar in his pocket, with nowhere to stay. No services for him. If he were being released on probation and on parole, he would be assigned a case worker who would help him find housing and a job, but that’s not what happens when a conviction is just thrown out."

In some states, wrongfully convicted individuals who are later exonerated are sometimes able to secure multimillion-dollar compensation awards. In Wisconsin, the law allows a maximum of $25,000 in compensation. And even that paltry sum is doled out over the course of five years.

Very few of us could live on $25,000 per year, let alone $5,000 per year. How can we expect someone to rebuild a shattered life on such an amount after spending decades paying for crimes that someone else committed?

Source: Fox 6 Now, "Wisconsin man wrongly convicted still hasn’t found ultimate freedom," Nov. 5, 2013

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