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House Passes Serpa Bill Compensating Wrongfully Imprisoned

The Rhode Island State House is located at 82 Smith St. Providence.
The Rhode Island State House is located at 82 Smith St. Providence.
The Rhode Island State House is located at 82 Smith St. Providence.

STATE HOUSE — The House of Representatives today passed legislation introduced by Rep. Patricia Serpa (D-Dist. 27, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick) that would give compensation to innocent people who have spent time behind bars but later released when new evidence shows they were not guilty.

Rhode Island in one of 17 states that does not compensate the wrongfully imprisoned. That would change with the legislation (2020-H 7086) Rep. Serpa has sponsored. The law would authorize any person who has been wrongfully sentenced to a term of imprisonment greater than one year to petition the presiding justice of Rhode Island Superior Court for an award of compensation and damages, including attorney’s fees.

“When an innocent person is put in prison, they not only lose their freedom but their future, their plans, everything they might have been,” said Representative Serpa. “Once they are proven innocent, the task of re-entering society can be even more difficult than it is for those who rightfully paid for their crimes. Unlike those who are paroled, who have many services at their disposal, the innocent have nothing. They are left with no housing, no income, and no health care.”

Under the legislation, if the court found that the claimant was wrongfully incarcerated, it would grant an award of $50,000 for each year served in a

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Representative Patricia A. Serpa.

correctional facility. For incarceration of less than a year, the amount would be prorated to 1/365 of $50,000 for every day served.

The award may be expanded to include compensation for any reasonable costs including housing, transportation, subsistence, re-integrative services, and mental and physical health care costs, along with reasonable attorney’s fees not to exceed $15,000.

“This is not only the right thing to do, but it’s an important step we need to take to ensure the integrity of our criminal justice system,” said Representative Serpa.

The measure now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Rob Borkowski
Author: Rob Borkowski

Rob has worked as reporter and editor for several publications, including The Kent County Daily Times and Coventry Courier, before working for Gatehouse in MA then moving home with Patch Media. Now he's publisher and editor of WarwickPost.com. Contact him at editor@warwickpost.com with tips, press releases, advertising inquiries, and concerns.