Former inmates abruptly freed after spending up to six years in federal prison even though they were “legally innocent” are coming home with less help than the government typically provides the guilty after they are released, USA Today reports. Most of them got little more than a bus ticket. Federal law does not require the government to help them search for jobs or find basic necessities such as clothing and a place to live, assistance the guilty routinely receive during their post-prison supervision, partly to keep them from returning to crime. Judges in North Carolina have ordered the government to release at least 17 inmates in one of the largest episodes in recent memory of federal prisoners having their convictions overturned. USA Today identified 60 people incarcerated for gun possession even though a court later determined that they had not committed a federal crime.
The U.S. Justice Department argued they should remain in prison anyway, but reversed its stance last month “in the interests of justice.” “A lot of people would say they need help finding a job, but it’s really they need help finding underwear,” said Theresa Newman, who runs a wrongful convictions program at Duke University’s law school. “At a minimum, the state and the federal government should help innocent people make the transition out.” At least 10 states provide services like job training, health care and housing assistance to wrongfully convicted prisoners, says the Innocence project.