Michigan Could Soon Compensate Wrongfully Convicted Prisoners

Jake Neher/WDET

State Sen. Steve Bieda (left) and Julie Baumer (center) with Stephen Henderson (right)

It should be no shock to anyone that our criminal justice system isn’t perfect — far from it.

There are people in Michigan who serve out entire sentences in prison and live the rest of their lives labeled as felons who never did anything wrong. Sometimes we figure out we’ve put the wrong person behind bars and let them free.

But then what? Many of these people have lost years or even decades of their lives. Do we expect them to walk out of prison and go on with their lives as if nothing ever happened? Of course not. But here in Michigan, we give them nothing. We don’t even offer them the same re-entry services that parolees who actually committed a crime can get.

But that could soon change under legislation headed to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk

Detroit Today Host Stephen Henderson speaks with bill sponsor state Sen. Steve Bieda (D-Warren), as well as exoneree Julie Baumer.

Baumer was wrongfully convicted of first degree child abuse in 2003. She was sentenced to 10-15 years in prison in 2005, and it wasn’t until 2009 that her sentence was overturned.

It was almost like coming back from the dead,” says Baumer. “I had to regain my identity. I had to regain my reputation amongst my family and my peers and whatnot. And so, it was basically like starting from scratch, which isn’t fun… I still suffer from emotional scars.”

Sen. Bieda’s bill, Senate Bill 291, would require the state to compensate exonerees up to $50,000 for every year that they were wrongfully convicted. He says the Legislature’s adoption of the bill is a long time coming.

I’ve been working on this since I was first elected in 2003,” says Bieda. “They lose everything… They lose their families, they lose their careers, they lose their standing in the community.”

We actually treat somebody who is guilty and is, I guess you could say, rightfully convicted better upon their release than we do somebody that was innocent.”

Click on the audio player above to hear the full conversation.

Image credit: Federal Bureau of Prisons

About the Author

Detroit Today

Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.

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