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Wrongly convicted inmates struggle to rebuild lives, require more government assistance

Published: Monday, Oct. 1 2012 12:01 p.m. MDT

Henry James, who was exonerated from a rape conviction for which he served thirty years in prison, walks to speak to reporters after being released from the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, inside the offices of the Innocence Project, which worked for his release, in New Orleans, Friday, Oct. 21, 2011.

Gerald Herbert, Associated Press

Despite spending years behind bars for crimes they didn't commit, wrongly convicted inmates many times are not receiving needed compensation to reconstruct their lives upon release.

"Most of them have received little more than a bus ticket," USA Today reported. "Federal law does not require the government to help them search for jobs or find basic necessities, such as clothing and a place to live, assistance the guilty routinely receive during their post-prison supervision, partly to keep them from returning to crime."

According to a national database, over 2,000 wrongfully convicted inmates and ex-cons have been released from prison since 1989, more than 100 of which had been sentenced to death, reported the Huffington Post.

Earlier this year the Associated Press reported on a Texas case where a man, Billy Frederick Allen, spent more than 25 years in prison before an appeals court overturned his convictions in two murders. Allen then fought the state for $2 million, which he claimed was just compensation.

"Although the appeals court declared the evidence against Allen too weak for any reasonable juror to convict him, Texas officials say he has not proven his innocence," reported the Associated Press. "Therefore, they say, he isn't covered by a state law that generously compensates the wrongfully convicted for the years they spent behind bars."

Wrongly convicted inmates in Texas who are declared innocent by a judge, prosecutors or a governor's pardon can collect $80,000 for every year of imprisonment, along with an annuity, which is the most generous compensation law in the United States, the Associated Press reported. Many inmates do not qualify for the compensation, however.

Most states do not provide such compensation and freed inmates struggle with finding jobs or even getting their licenses renewed, according to USA Today.

"A lot of people would say they need help finding a job, but it's really they need help finding underwear," said Theresa Newman, who runs a wrongful convictions program at Duke University's law school, to USA Today. "At a minimum, the state and the federal government should help innocent people make the transition out."

Cory Session, whose brother, Tim Cole, was exonerated of a rape conviction after he died and became the namesake of the compensation law, said he was prepared to push for legislative changes to help Allen.

"I'm totally against someone going to prison, spending years and then their case getting out on appeal, and they say, 'We don't really want to say he's innocent, but no jury would find him guilty,'" Session said to the Associated Press. "In the state of Texas, we can't play semantics with people's lives after they're incarcerated."

At least 10 states provide services such as job training, health care and housing assistance to wrongfully convicted prisoners, according to an Innocence Project study, USA Today reported.

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