Despite the trauma of wrongful imprisonment, victims of miscarriage of justice receive inadequate compensation and follow-up support on release, a major report by civil rights group Justice has revealed.
An average of 21 convictions are quashed each year, but the number of successful compensation claims is far less. In 2014/15, for example, there were 20 quashed convictions and one successful compensation application. In 2015/16 there were 17 quashed convictions and two successful applications.
Currently, Justice say, the application process for exonerees is ‘burdensome and complex’ and the compensation award is capped. However, much more than financial compensation is needed to help people adjust to life on the outside.
Currently, exonerees are released with no state support other than £46 and a travel voucher. By contrast, prisoners attend courses on the practicalities of life after release in the last 12 weeks of their sentence.
In its report, Supporting Exonerees: Ensuring Accessible, Consistent and Continuing Support, Justice records how one exoneree, who had learning disabilities, was discharged in December in a T-shirt, with his belongings in two clear plastic bags stamped ‘HM Prison Service’ and had no one to meet him at the gates. Exonerees frequently struggle with mental health problems and have difficulties maintaining relationships.
Justice makes 14 recommendations for reform, including: the provision of specialist psychiatric care; a residential service to offer practical and welfare support to exonerees; an independent body to determine eligibility for compensation; automatic compensation for wrongful imprisonment; and an apology and explanation for the failure that leads to a quashed conviction.
Jodie Blackstock, legal director of Justice, said: ‘Our recommendations are ambitious but if we are to address the complex needs that exonerees face on release, they are necessary.
‘People who are wrongly imprisoned often experience trauma, which can make returning to everyday life incredibly challenging. Financial support is hard to obtain and doesn’t solve the problem. Exonerees require accessible, consistent and continuing support to start rebuilding their lives outside prison.’