General Assembly passes bill that would compensate those who have been wrongfully imprisoned
STATE HOUSE — The General Assembly today passed legislation introduced by Rep. Patricia Serpa (D-Dist. 27, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick) and Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence) that would give compensation to innocent people who have spent time behind bars but later released when new evidence shows they were not guilty.
“When an innocent person is put in prison, they not only lose their freedom but their future, their plans, everything they might have been,” said Representative Serpa. “Once they are proven innocent, the task of re-entering society can be even more difficult than it is for those who rightfully paid for their crimes. Unlike those who are paroled, who have many services at their disposal, the innocent have nothing. They are left with no housing, no income, and no health care.”
The law (2021-H 5470B, 2021-S 0672aa) would authorize any person who has been wrongfully sentenced to a term of imprisonment greater than one year to petition the presiding justice of Rhode Island Superior Court for an award of compensation and damages, including attorney’s fees.
“Individuals who have been wrongfully convicted have suffered a unique kind of injustice,” said Senator Coyne. “The state has taken from them years of freedom, which they can never get back. The personal loss is impossible to quantify, but the state has an obligation to provide some remedy to people who were wrongfully convicted.”
Under the legislation, if the court found that the claimant was wrongfully incarcerated, it would grant an award of $50,000 for each year served in a correctional facility. For incarceration of less than a year, the amount would be prorated to 1/365 of $50,000 for every day served.
The award may be expanded to include compensation for any reasonable costs including housing, transportation, subsistence, re-integrative services, and mental and physical health care costs, along with reasonable attorney’s fees not to exceed $15,000.
The measure now moves to the governor’s office.
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