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Waters Introduces Justice for Exonerees Act

June 25, 2021
Press Release

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For Immediate Release: 
June 25, 2021

Media Contact: Marcus Frias
Marcus.Frias@mail.house.gov 

Waters Introduces Justice for Exonerees Act

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Chairwoman of the House Committee on Financial Services, announced the introduction of the Justice for Exonerees Act. The legislation would increase the maximum amount of money, by forty percent, exonerees in the federal system can receive for each year of wrongful incarceration. This necessary change addresses the fact that the law providing compensation for exonerees who served time for crimes they never committed is not adjusted for inflation and has not been updated in almost two decades.

Congresswoman Waters first introduced this legislation in the 116th Congress.

“The Justice for Exonerees Act is a bill that is rooted in the principles of fairness and justice, both of which I have strived to bring about my entire life,” said Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA). “Since 1989, there have been almost 3,000 individuals exonerated who have collectively lost 25,000 years of their lives serving time for crimes they did not commit. For the first time in two decades, my bill would update the maximum amount of damages a wrongfully convicted individual in the federal system may receive by forty percent. While my legislation takes an important step forward, let me be clear that no amount of money could ever be enough to make up for the time and opportunities stolen from exonerees.”

While the federal system is responsible for a small portion of those 3,000 wrongful convictions since 1989, over 100 individuals have served time in the federal justice system for crimes they did not commit. Each of those individuals had years stolen from them, with the average exoneree losing nine years of their life.

Specifically, the Justice for Exonerees Act:

  • Amends current law to increase the funds for which an exoneree is eligible from $50,000 per year of unjust incarceration to $70,000 per year. The increase from $50,000 to $70,000 reflects how much the amount of money would have increased had the law been indexed for inflation since 2004, the last year it was amended.
  • Amends current law to index the amount of funds for which exonerees are eligible for each year of incarceration for inflation, so the amount increases each year with inflation.

“The Innocence Project is in strong support of this legislation, which not only increases the annual amount of compensation, but also includes an inflator to ensure increases over time consistent with the cost of living,” said Rebecca Brown, Director of Policy at the Innocence Project. “There is no amount of restitution that can ever make up for the unique horror of wrongful conviction but the Innocence Project is gratified to see the introduction of this legislation, which not only will benefit exonerees in the federal system; it will also serve as a model to states as they contemplate new laws or improvements to their existing frameworks.”

Cosponsors of the Justice for Exonerees Act include Representatives: Alma S. Adams (D-NC), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tony Cardenas (D-CA), André Carson (D-IN), David Cicilline (D-RI), Danny K. Davis (D-IL), Jesús G. "Chuy" García (D-IL), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Mondaire Jones (D-NY), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Mark Takano (D-CA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Frederica S. Wilson (D-FL).

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