Joelle Farrell, Inquirer Trenton Bureau
POSTED: Sunday, March 17, 2013, 7:12 AM
Two men spent more than a decade behind bars before DNA evidence exonerated them. After their release, one married, held a steady job, and earned a pension. The other is on welfare and lives with his mother.
What separates their situations? Mainly, a river.
While individual traits and circumstances surely played a role in the former inmates’ differing destinies, prison reform advocates say it was crucial that one received a hand up from the state upon release and the other did not.
Since 1997, New Jersey has compensated the wrongfully convicted with at least $20,000 for each year of incarceration. Lawmakers are considering raising the minimum to $50,000 per year and adding benefits, such as reintegration services, that are available to paroled inmates but not exonerated ones.
Pennsylvania has no similar law.
After serving 18 years for the murder of a McDonald’s night manager in Duquesne, Pa., Drew Whitley of nearby Braddock left prison in 2006 with less than $100 earned working in the prison laundry, said Bill Mousher, an investigative reporter and director of the Innocence Institute of Point Park University, which worked on Whitley’s case.
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