My son spent most of 14 years in Montana's prisons for a crime he didn't commit. He was 17 when he was wrongfully convicted and 33 when he was finally exonerated.
My son is not alone. Since 1989, 14 innocent people have been exonerated in Montana. Together, those 14 people lost over 150 years of their lives to a wrongful conviction.
While there is no way for Montana to replace the years that it wrongfully took from these exonerees, the state must at least provide compensation to help them build a future.
The Montana Legislature's Law and Justice Interim Committee is conducting a study with regard to these people who have been exonerated from wrongful convictions and imprisonment.
Although I cannot predict what agendas may evolve from this study, I sincerely hope the final committee recommendations focus on what Montana can and should do about repairing and restoring the lives that have been stolen and shattered by malicious Montana cops and prosecutors who operate under the cloak of immunity.
It has been said that “Good cops and prosecutors don't need immunity.”
In the past three years the Montana Innocence Project has obtained at least five exonerations for people who paid many years in prison for something they didn’t do. There are more on the way. In many of those cases there was official misconduct. Yet, to date, none of these "officials" have been held accountable for withholding evidence favorable to the defendants and using incentivized witnesses, who got deals in their own cases for lying about other cases.
That said, Montana has these exonerees who have been returned to society with their freedom and nothing else but their PTSD, their anxiety, their anger, their bitterness and the shirts on their backs. Certainly, they've received no financial help nor qualified counseling. Hell, they don't even get an apology.
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Montana owes these people a great deal for what's been done to them. A compensation statute providing reasonable monetary assistance for the time they spent in prison, including wrongful supervision and/or registration, would go a long way toward helping them to get on their feet.
What would it be worth to you to be wrongfully convicted, wrongfully incarcerated, publicly shunned and just a Google click away from public scrutiny forever?
I have witnessed first hand the struggles that my son Cody has had to contend with. I've listened to his nightmares. I've witnessed his financial and health problems that are directly related to his wrongful conviction. I’ve tried to help all I can, but my resources are limited.
For Montana to continue to do nothing to help these people who we have wronged is heartless and irresponsible. As a native Montanan, it is embarrassing to me.
This is not a novel idea. Thirty-five states, Washington, D.C., and the federal government (for people wrongly convicted in the federal system) provide compensation to exonerees, with the majority providing at least $50,000 in monetary compensation for each year the innocent person was wrongly incarcerated. One provides $200,000 for each year wrongfully incarcerated. It’s time for Montana to join this list.
Then, we can work on a solution to the larger problem, which is holding malicious cops and prosecutors directly responsible for their actions. That should help to stop the problem of sending innocent people to prison.
After all, this IS supposed to be a system based on accountability, is it not?
Please let your legislators know that you agree that something must be done about this problem.