Governor McKee Signs Legislation to Compensate the Wrongfully Imprisoned

Published on Friday, September 17, 2021

PROVIDENCE, RI – Governor Dan McKee, joined by Representative Patricia A. Serpa and Senator Cynthia A. Coyne, ceremonially signed legislation Thursday that compensates innocent people who spent time behind bars but were then released after new evidence proves they were not guilty.

“It is hard to imagine the anger and suffering that one must face when wrongfully imprisoned,” said Governor McKee. “Wrongful imprisonment is an injustice, and as a state, we owe these individuals the compensation that they deserve. Although it can never give them back the time that they lost, we hope that it can help them to get back on the track to a successful life. I thank Representative Serpa and Senator Coyne for seeking justice for these individuals.”

The legislation (2021-H 5470B2021-S 0672aa) allows anyone who was wrongfully sentenced to prison for more than one year to petition the presiding justice of Rhode Island Superior Court for compensation and damages. If the court finds that the claimant was wrongfully imprisoned, it will grant an award of $50,000 for each year served in a correctional facility. If imprisoned for less than one year, the claimant will receive 1/365 of $50,000 for each day served.

The award can include damages such as attorney’s fees no greater than $15,000, plus compensation for reasonable costs including housing, transportation, subsistence, re-integrative services, and mental and physical health care costs.

“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 (D-Dist. 27, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick). “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.”

“Individuals who have been wrongfully convicted have suffered a unique kind of injustice,” said Senator Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence). “The state has taken from them years of freedom, which they can never get back. The personal loss is impossible to quantify, but the state has an obligation to provide some remedy to people who were wrongfully convicted.”