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WI lawmakers seek compensation increase for wrongful convictions

DNA evidence has become crucial in helping Wisconsin's law enforcement agencies solve violent crimes. Wisconsin's criminal DNA database has reduced the likelihood of wrongful convictions and has also helped exonerate some wrongfully convicted individuals who have spent years in prison for crimes they didn't commit.

Unfortunately, the compensation offered to these victims is far from just. The state of Wisconsin currently offers a maximum payout of $25,000 over five years to those who have been exonerated after a wrongful conviction; unless a higher payout is approved by the state Senate. The only states offering less compensation are those that offer none at all. Thankfully, several lawmakers are working to change that.

A new bill currently being considered would raise the compensation level to match the federal maximum of $50,000 per year. It would also help recently exonerated individuals by offering services to aid in reintegration to society and by providing financial assistance to cover some living expenses.

The co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project recently noted how unfair and illogical Wisconsin's current policies are. He said: "One of the amazing things about these cases is that someone didn't do the crime and yet they walk out of prison to absolutely nothing. They have less support than someone who was guilty and gets released on parole. This bill provides for some immediate assistance."

Similar attempts at compensation reform have failed to gain momentum in the past. Hopefully, however, Wisconsin lawmakers will come to recognize that this is an important aspect to our state's criminal justice system. Wrongful imprisonment is among the worst injustices a person can endure. When they are later proven innocent, they need to be fairly compensated for the years of their life that they can never get back.

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Bill seeks to right wrong against wrongly convicted," Ashley Luthern, Sept. 30, 2013

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