People who spent years, even decades, behind bars in California's prisons before being exonerated are not entitled to any services or compensation, not even the normal reintegration counselling, funding and services made available to parolees and criminals who've served their time.
Instead, they're dumped in bus stations without any money or help. They can then initiate proceedings which take at least a year, hoping to recover at most $140/day for the years they spent behind bars. The Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board — which takes as much as four years just to year a case — then requires the exonerated person to prove that they are "more likely than not" innocent. This process can also take years. Then the board can simply deny the claim. Simply attempting to get compensation can result in local DAs pressing fresh charges in acts of vindictive retaliation.
California is the worst offender when it comes to denying justice to the wrongfully imprisoned, but it's not the only one. Many US states have systems that are nearly as unjust.
The prosecutors who put away Tennison and Goff opposed their petition for compensation; the same was true of Caldwell's prosecutor. Madrigal had it even worse: The Los Angeles District Attorney's Office recharged him with the same crime after his release from prison. It subsequently offered him a plea deal, which he refused, and finally gave up due to lack of evidence. Nobody has ever thought to offer an apology, which, Madrigal says, "would at least give me a sense of relief." His compensation case is currently on appeal to a state court.
Even in a case like Rick Walker's, in which the DA's office supported the exoneration, the compensation was slow to come and insufficient. A retired assistant DA from Contra Costa County, Karyn Sinunu-Towery—who currently volunteers for the Northern California Innocence Project and has assisted Walker in his quest for release and compensation—believes there should be a restitution fund specifically for exonerees. She says that despite her support, "Mr. Walker still needed a state senator to sponsor a bill and see it passed before Mr. Walker could receive his long-overdue $100 per day for being falsely imprisoned by the state."
Walker is ready to tell anyone who's willing to listen about the state's treatment of exonerees. "I'm kind of a fortunate one," he says, because he was able to live with his mother after his release and within a year received $421,000 as recompense for his 12 years of unjust incarceration. He believes that a newly exonerated person requires "at least 50 grand and someone with good sense to show him what to do with it. He has to set up and establish himself. He doesn't need to wonder where his next month's rent comes from. He needs clothing. He needs direction. Is he going to school? Is he going to work? Is he going to concentrate on his physical being or his emotional or spiritual being?"
The Crazy Injustice of Denying Exonerated Prisoners Compensation
[Jessica Pishko/Modern Luxury]