If I said that the VHAC tour is being run on coffee, I’d probably be exaggerating…but only slightly. The only reason it would be an exaggeration is because we’ve barely had time to stop for coffee. Otherwise, we would.
On Day V today, the Mystery Machine pulled in to Edinboro for a stop at Edinboro University, Meadville to visit Allegheny College, and Erie for a community event. Erie and northwest PA are very important to the campaign for a moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania. With a heavy Catholic population, Erie is fertile ground for building the grass-roots movement. There are also legislators of interest in the region.
Without fail, at every event we’ve held, someone asks if Harold Wilson received compensation or restitution after his 16+ years on PA’s death row after his wrongful conviction. Harold has received nothing. Well, that’s not true. He received 65 cents and a bus token and was escorted out the back door of Philadelphia County jail after his acquittal at retrial in November, 2005.
22 states have some form of compensation for exonerated prisoners, but Pennsylvania is not one of them. The Innocence Project considers this a “priority issue.”
The Innocence Project is intimately familiar with the tremendous pain and challenges exonerated people encounter after release, and has developed a series of recommendations for states to compensate the wrongly convicted.
The moral and legal obligation to provide compensation
With no money, housing, transportation, health services or insurance, and a criminal record that is rarely cleared despite innocence, the punishment lingers long after an innocent person is exonerated. States have a responsibility to restore innocent people’s lives to the best of their abilities.
The Innocence Project recommends that all states:
* Compensate exonerated people immediately after release with a fixed sum or a range of recovery for each year of wrongful incarceration. Congress and President Bush have recommended that this amount be set at $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration.
* Provide immediate re-entry funds and access to job training, educational, health and legal services after an innocent person’s release.
Pennsylvania Senate Bill 714 would provide a mechanism for compensating exonerated prisoners. It is not a perfect bill. It would require the exoneree to file a claim in common pleas court, which is not recommended by The Innocence Project. But SB 714 is a step in the right direction. It has eight co-sponsors, including the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
This is fresh in my mind not only because we keep getting that question but also because Harold spent most of the trip tonight from Erie to Pittsburgh telling me about the hardships exonerees face. Much of it was not news, but it is good to have that reminder.
Lorry Post of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation re-joined the tour today and will be with us for a big day on Thursday in Pittsburgh.
Andy in Harrisburg in Pittsburgh