MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A push is underway to compensate people who were exonerated for crimes for which they were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned.

Minnesota is one of 21 states that have no compensation statutes for people who were wrongfully imprisoned. Two Minnesota lawmakers are trying to change that.

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According to the bill’s authors, it’s not meant to point fingers or lay blame on those who were involved in wrongful convictions. Instead, it’s designed to create a new safeguard into the legal system, giving those who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned something to make them whole again.

For more than six years, Michael Hansen sat behind bars, convicted and sentenced for a crime which he was later exonerated for.

“Nothing can buy the time that I was far away from my family,” said Koua Fong Lee, who was also wrongfully imprisoned for three years.

“In extremely rare cases this can happen, and it will happen in the future. We are a system of human beings and human beings do make mistakes,” said Sen. Ron Latz.

Latz and Rep. John Lesch are pushing legislation that will compensate those who have been wrongfully convicted and then exonerated.
People released from prison are given parole officers who help them find housing and jobs. But when Fong Lee and Hansen were released from prison, they had no such assistance.

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The legislation would allow those exonerated to receive compensation that would be capped at $700,000. They’ll also receive assistance with medical care and help finding a job.

“Today shows me a lot,” Hansen said. “Today shows me that I’m not just a piece of paper, I’m not just someone who was warehoused.”

Both men hope this legislation will mean a new beginning for them and their families.

Both lawmakers say they expect to pass the legislation in the 2014 session and hope to do so with support from both sides of the aisles.

An administrative law judge will base compensation on the number of years spent in prison as well as economic loss for the time spent in prison.

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The compensation is not supposed to make them rich, it’s supposed to get them to a position they would have been if not incarcerated.

Reg Chapman