Gov. Jim Doyle has proposed giving a man that University of Wisconsin students helped free from jail higher monetary compensation for the 18 years he spent in prison.
Steven Avery, 43, served nearly two decades in a state prison, but was acquitted of a 1985 rape conviction in light of further DNA testing on evidence found at the crime scene.
Upon his release from the Stanley Correctional Institution in Chippewa County, the state of Wisconsin awarded Avery $25,000 for his wrongful conviction. The amount, dubbed insufficient and ridiculous by politicians, professors, and local citizens, came as an insult to an already injured Avery.
Avery’s compensation was a result of a 1913 resolution passed by the Wisconsin State Senate regarding wrongful imprisonment. The decree states that wrongfully convicted citizens will be given $5,000 per year of incarceration with a maximum cap of $25,000. However, the law did not make provisions for economic factors such as inflation.
According to University of Wisconsin associate professor Keith Findley, the law is “terribly outdated, and woefully inadequate.”
Findley said Wisconsin should aspire to do more for wrongfully accused citizens and “provide fair reparations for these people to make up for the lost time.”
Findley compared the system in Wisconsin to other states.
“In Texas, erroneous conviction victims are eligible for $25,000 per year of incarceration with no principle cap,” Findley said.
He said that a similar system should be enacted in Wisconsin but that money is not Wisconsin’s only pressing issue in Avery’s case.
“The case clearly shows the fallibility of the system. The system itself is not secure from such errors, and an inquiry should be taken to see where the mistakes were made.”
According to Gov. Doyle’s press secretary Dan Leistikow, the governor shared similar concerns.
“Mr. Doyle is aware of the issue and also believes that the system needs to be amended,” Leistikow said.
Leistikow also said that Doyle is pressing for a query to find a reasonable concession so that those who are wrongfully convicted can attempt to start their lives over again. In addition, the governor is looking to further push the use of DNA testing to help foolproof the system.
Avery’s case received statewide attention and led to a planned meeting in the legislature to discuss what number would constitute fair restitution. Many people argue that a compensatory figure of $450,000 would be reasonable, a number paralleling one that Avery would have received had he been in Texas.
Regardless of the outcome and what future laws may allow, Findley and Doyle said no monetary sum would equate to two decades of lost freedom.