David Quindt, 27, was wrongly convicted of a murder, faced life behind bars, and was driven twice to attempt suicide while in custody. After 14 months in jail, he was exonerated. The Los Angeles Times says he could have used help finding a stable job, and still could use debt counseling, health care for his young family, eyeglasses he can actually see through, some dental work, and psychological help. No state provides services to “exonerees,” the growing number of former prison inmates who, thanks to DNA technology, recanting witnesses and other exculpatory forces, are being found innocent of any involvement in the crimes for which they were convicted. Some eventually may obtain the monetary compensation some states offer, but exonerated prisoners get nothing on release but a bit of pocket money. They’re left to deal unaided with shattered lives, the enduring suspicion of others and their own festering resentments. Parolees, who never had convictions overturned, can receive free employment counseling, housing referrals, and physical and mental health services through parole agents assigned to help them rejoin society.
“People don’t really recover from this,” said Dr. Lola Vollen, a physician and co-founder of the Berkeley-based Life After Exoneration Program, a year-old organization dedicated to helping the exonerated after they’re released. As many as 35 innocence projects work for the release of the wrongfully convicted. Life After Exoneration is believed to be the first program to focus exclusively on the needs of such prisoners after they’re freed. Helped by a $100,000 grant from the Oakland Federal District Court, the group envisions a national network of exonerated people aided by volunteer “case managers” who help the former prisoners reassemble their lives.