Alan Northrop and Compensation for the Wrongly Imprisoned

While reading an article the other day, I came across a piece of information that really made no sense to me. While I knew about it prior, I could never understand the reasoning for not compensating wrongly convicted criminals for the wasted life they spent in jail for crimes that they did not commit.

According to the Innocence Project 40 percent of all the people that have been exonerated after proving their innocence have no been compensated for the life they wasted while incarcerated.

There are currently 27 states that provide some form of compensation and help for the wrongfully convicted to immerse themselves back into society. Texas for example, provides $80,000 every year for a person that was wrongly convicted and an additional $25,000 per year for being on death row. Other states like California value their time per day, offering $100 for every day spent incarcerated.

However, despite much fight and a number of more than relevant cases, the state of Washington has opted out of this compensation, forcing the wrongly convicted to fight for any hope of a normal life before the state took it away from them.

In 1993, Alan Northrop’s life changed forever. Northrop was playing pool at a local bar, when he was arrested and charged for the rape and kidnapping of a housekeeper. According to the victim’s testimony, although she was blind folded for the majority of the attack, the jury sentenced Northrop, a father of three, to 23 years in prison.

During much of his time in prison, Northrop tried time and time again to reach out and prove his innocence. He was going nowhere, until he decided to contact the Innocence Project at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle in 2000.

The innocence project tried for years to prove Northrop’s innocence by requesting to use more advanced DNA testing on the evidence. However, it wasn’t until a new state law was enacted in 2005 that gave judges the power to order additional testing did Northrop get his request. It took an additional five years for the testing to be completed before the court would even consider the controversy results. The DNA showed that it was not Northrop’s DNA on the victim.

In 2010 Northrop was released from prison after serving 17 years behind bars for being wrongly convicted. One would think that his life was on the upswing, that he was free and eager to start a new life.

Northrop found out that because he was imprisoned in Washington, that was certainly not the case. He left prison with $2,500 to his name, which included the 42-cent-an-hour prison job that he had accrued over the 17 years he was there. With little money to his name and no work experience from the past 17 years, Northrop had nowhere to go. In addition he was hit with a child support bill of $111,000 that he had no way of paying.

Northrop currently works fulltime but has to live in a small room in a friend’s house because he is unable to afford anything else.

According to Northrop, it is not just the money that he wishes the state would pay him; it is also training and counseling for the punishment that the psyche undergoes after spending 17 years in prison.

Money would give Northrop a fighting chance to get his life started again. But because he doesn’t live in the one of the 27 states that compensates the wrongly convicted, he is out of luck and forced to figure it out on his own.

Innocence Project Northwest attorney Lara Zarowsky, who helped free Northrop, said that she and the Innocence project are lobbying for a law in Washington state that would provide not only the much needed compensation but also job training and counseling for exonerated prisoners. Possibly even the same type of job training and counseling that is available to guilty former prisoners.

More information of Northrop and the Innocence Project can be found here. There are cases like Northrop’s all over the country.  Another can be viewed here. The full story and video on Northrop’s case can be viewed online at CNN entitled Time doesn’t pay, wrongfully imprisoned find.

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Photo of Steve Graham Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking:
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