Former Texas death row inmate Kerry Cook, who could be fully exonerated in the next few days after spending 20 years in prison, will likely not worry about his financial future upon return to society.
Texas applies the highest amount of monetary compensation to those wrongfully convicted. Each exoneree receives $80,000 per year of incarceration and $25,000 per year on parole or registered as a sex offender, according to a study by Loyola University.
In addition to financial assistance, Texas provides for social services such as tuition at a public university and the opportunity to buy in to the state employee health plan. In Cook’s case, he would be entitled to $1.6 million in restitution.
Upon her release from court 1,300 miles northeast in Fayette County, a very different system applies to Crystal Weimer. Despite maintaining her absolute innocence, Weimer spent 11 years in prison after being sentenced to 15-30 years for a crime she did not commit.
However, the commonwealth, along with 20 other states, does not have a law outlining wrongful conviction compensation. Pennsylvania has exonerated 50 people since 1989, all without compensation from the state. According to the Innocence Project, a criminal record is rarely cleared despite innocence, making it far more difficult for an exoneree to re-enter and properly adapt to society. If Pennsylvania wants to contribute to the productivity of each exoneree, minimum compensation statutes should be implemented.
Nicolas Guerrero, Milltown, N.J.