Assembly approves wrongful conviction compensation

Dane County inmate trapped in cell after malfunction

People wrongly convicted of crimes in Wisconsin could claim up to $50,000 for each year spent behind bars under a bipartisan bill Wisconsin’s Assembly has approved unanimously.

Such payouts are now capped at $5,000 for each year of incarceration, with a maximum of $25,000. The bill would raise that to $50,000 per year, with an overall limit of $1 million.

The new compensation levels would apply to claims filed by anyone wrongly convicted who was released on or after Jan. 1, 1990. The bill would also provide the wrongly convicted with access to the state’s health insurance program and transitional services, like job training and housing.

The measure was proposed in the Legislature after the case of Steven Avery once again became highly publicized.

“This was a fear of mine. To be really honest about it is we worked on this bill the last two sessions and introduced the bill again this session, and all of sudden the whole ‘Making a Murderer’ came out and we did not see that coming,” Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, said. “So we do not want to make this about Steven Avery. It is not about Steven Avery.”

The bill does not outline whether someone wrongfully convicted, who re-offends, would have to repay any money from the state, but it does give the state’s claims board authority to put conditions on the payment.

The Assembly approved the bill 98-0 on Tuesday. It goes next to the state Senate.