The 17-year horror of Alan Northrop, as laid out in this Times story, ought to make any of us question the supposed infalliability of justice. Northrop is a local man who spent nearly two decades in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
Northrop was wrongly convicted of rape, a crime even hardened criminals frown upon and thus making his time in prison perilous as well as just awful. He missed his three children growing up. Now he has to pay 17 years’ worth of child support but money is hard to come by when potential employers can’t get past the cavernous gap on his resume.
This is not a question of a miscarriage of justice. No one denies Northrop’s raw deal. Indeed, they waived some of his child support costs. Should the state’s debt to Northrop stop there? A better question is what, if any, restitution is owed the many other inmates proved innocent. Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines has long pushed for monetary compensation. She’s up to bat again this year, with House Bill 1341. The proposed law would provide wrongfully convicted inmates with $50,000 for each year served, and an additional $50,000 for each year spent on death row. A lesser amount, $25,000, would be given for each year spent on parole or registered as a sex offender.
The Innocence Project, a national advocacy group that uses DNA to exonerate wrongfully convicted inmates tracks the number of victories so far – 302 in 36 states – and even breaks them out by race to show where the weight of justice falls heaviest.
Back to the issue of compensation. I think it is only right to make restitution for grave errors. Criminals have to make restitution to their victims. I also think money has a way of leading to fewer misstakes once state and county prosecutors realize their is a cost to them as well. This could help straighten the wheels of justice. There are also other sides to this argument. Make them.
Photo Credit: UW Innocence Project