Michigan offers nothing to those wrongly convicted of a crime while parolees get millions

Posted at 11:33 PM, Jul 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-01 23:33:41-04

The 23-year-old man released from prison after spending nearly nine years behind bars, convicted on four murders he did not commit is now fighting another battle.

7 Action News was there as Devontae Sandford was released from state prison last month. He joins the ranks of men and women who spent years behind bars in Michigan, wrongly convicted.

For exonerees, it's not the Cinderella homecoming so many pictured. For some, it means homelessness, fighting to make ends meet, ostracized by family and even facing society's scorn.

Julie Baumer was exonerated after four years in prison accused of shaken baby syndrome. Today, she is a bookkeeper for a local church, the only job she says she could land.

"Just the fact of being in prison, people are like, 'oh, you were in prison?' and so it's like, 'yeah, but it's okay, I'm not diseased or anything,'" Baumer said.

Donya Davis said she couldn't get a job, couldn't feed his family or do anything after getting out. Unable to work, he moved to Alabama, leaving his home a second time to rebuild the life that was taken from him.

"Everybody thinks, 'oh, this guy is about to get this crazy lawsuit, is about to get this money,'" Davis said. "They don't give you anything, they don't care."

The state of Michigan offers nothing to people like Davis and Baumer who are wrongly convicted. There is no compensation, no state check, not even an apology. But get this, felons released on parole get millions of dollars in services.

We dug into the numbers from the Michigan Department of Corrections. It's called the Reentry Program, and this year, they will spend $13.2 million paying for parolee housing, employment, health, transportation and clothing.

The program is meant for good, to make sure felons have somewhere to get and something to do when they get out.

"We can only expend state resources on those who are under our supervision and as soon as someone is exonerated and they've left our care, we're barred by law from spending any money on them," Chris Guatz, from the MDOC said.

Michigan is one of 20 states that does not compensate exonerees released from prison, but there is a bill about to change that.

Senate Bill 291 offers $50,000 per year of wrongful conviction. It's supported by both Democrats and Republicans, but the bill has been circulating Lansing since 2003.

Two weeks after we spoke with the Senate Majority Floor Leader, the bill was passed in the Senate unanimously. it took more than a decade to see any recognition.

Now, the bill must go to the House for a vote and signed by Gov. Snyder. We're told that may happen as early as fall.