Rep. Serpa introduces bill that would compensate those who have been wrongfully imprisoned
STATE HOUSE — As state legislatures across the country tackle the issue of reforming their justice systems, one Rhode Island lawmaker is asking for justice for those imprisoned for crimes they never committed.
Rep. Patricia Serpa (D-Dist. 27, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick) has introduced legislation that would give compensation to innocent people who have spent time behind bars but later released when new evidence shows they were not guilty.
“When an innocent person is put in prison, they not only lose their freedom but their future, their plans, everything they might have been,” said Representative Serpa. “Once they are proven innocent, the task of re-entering society can be even more difficult than it is for those who rightfully paid for their crimes. Unlike those who are paroled, who have many services at their disposal, the innocent have nothing. They are left with no housing, no income, and no health care.”
Rhode Island in one of 17 states that does not compensate the wrongfully imprisoned. That would change with the legislation (2019-H 5329) Rep. Serpa has sponsored. The law would authorize any person who has been wrongfully sentenced to a term of imprisonment greater than one year to petition the presiding justice of Rhode Island Superior Court for an award of compensation and damages, including attorney’s fees.
“We as a society owe it to the wrongfully incarcerated to make up for the mistake we made in imprisoning them in the first place,” said Representative Serpa, who was contacted by a former Warwick police officer who spent six years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. “We failed them when we slammed the cell door. This legislation will give us the opportunity to provide prompt and compassionate assistance to help make up for that mistake.”
Under the legislation, if the court found that the claimant was wrongfully incarcerated, it would grant an award of $50,000 for each year served in a correctional facility. The award may be expanded to include compensation for any reasonable costs including housing, transportation, subsistence, re-integrative services, and mental and physical health care costs, along with reasonable attorney’s fees.
“This is not only the right thing to do, but it’s an important step we need to take to ensure the integrity of our criminal justice system,” said Representative Serpa.
The legislation, which is cosponsored by Representatives Gregg Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence), Mia Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln), Daniel P. McKiernan (D-Dist. 7, Providence) and Justine A. Caldwell (D-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich), has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence).
For more information, contact:
Daniel Trafford, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903