A 2017 state law that compensates those wrongly convicted of a crime has already hit a snag as the fund that makes the payouts is running dry.
According to The Detroit News, $1.6 million is in the compensation fund but exonerated ex-prisoners awaiting payment are owed millions of dollars combined. The law requires the state to pay those wrongly convicted $50,000 for each year they served behind bars.
Attorney General Dana Nessel is hoping to tackle the shortfall quickly and resolve payments disputed by her predecessor, Bill Schuette.
“Attorney General Dana Nessel … is working closely with her team to move forward as quickly as possible in evaluating these cases,” said Nessel’s spokesperson, Kelly Rossman-McKinney. “However, she is deeply concerned about the level of funding available to meet the act’s commitment our state has made to compensate those individuals who have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned.
“The current balance in the fund is so low that a single case or two could deplete it. We cannot and should not lead people to believe they will be compensated for their wrongful incarceration if we are unwilling to appropriate the necessary funds. Attorney General Nessel is hopeful our office can work with the Legislature and governor to ensure adequate funding is available.”
One ex-inmate who was exonerated last March from a murder conviction, Richard Phillips, spent 46 years in prison before his case was overturned. He is the longest-serving wrongfully convicted inmate in U.S. history, according to the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan. The state owes him more than $2 million.
Former state senator Steve Bieda, a Warren Democrat, spent nearly 13 years working to get legislation passed for wrongful conviction compensation before his bill finally became law. Bieda said Tuesday that he is confident the funding shortfall will be fixed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, with cooperation from the Republican Legislature.
“The intention was to initially appropriate money for the fund, with the governor and Legislature doing annual appropriations as needed to properly fund it, which is what will undoubtedly happen now,” he said.
Whitmer, who will deliver her first State of the State Address tonight at 7 p.m., is slated to release her proposed budget in March.