By Noel Scott
Journalism Guild Writer
After 34 years of imprisonment, Lewis Jim Fogle was exonerated in Pennsylvania by DNA evidence. His compensation for spending more than half his life behind bars: zero.
“It’s the state’s responsibility to make it right with me for what they cost me. They took my family away from me. They took my whole life away from me,” Fogle told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
Pennsylvania and 19 other states provide no compensation for those who have been exonerated and wrongly convicted.
Had Fogle been exonerated in Alabama, he would have received $1.7 million or in Texas, $2.72 million plus an annuity of equal value.
Since 1989, hundreds of people nationally have been exonerated by DNA evidence. In 2015 alone, 149 people were exonerated, which broke the record set the previous year as reported by the National Registry of Exonerations.
As it stands in Pennsylvania, there are no re-entry services, such as housing, health care, education or job counseling for exonerees like Fogle, reported the Post Gazette.
“It’s weird as heck. They have halfway houses for people who committed a crime, but don’t have a dang thing for people who didn’t commit a crime. They just threw me out here and expected me to survive,” said Fogle.
As of now, Fogle receives SSI benefits of $733 a month for being disabled by the post-traumatic stress of his wrongful conviction.
Through the Innocence Project that found the DNA evidence, Fogle’s rent will be paid for the next year. They are also paying for weekly therapy visits and have guided him to government benefits like food stamps.
“The Innocence Project did me right. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be able to survive. But the state should be doing it,” said Fogle.
Several Innocence Project offices nationally have teamed up to get states to enact statutes that would provide compensation of a least $63,000 per year of incarceration, which is the maximum amount provided under federal statute.
The “government understands the need for re-entry services – it provides them to people coming out of prison who did commit crimes, but for the innocent there is nothing,” said Rebecca Brown, policy director for the Innocence Project in New York.
Three days after Fogle’s exoneration in September 2015, he requested a meeting with Senator Don White (R-Indiana, Penn.) Then, at the end of October, Fogle met with White in his office and made his pitch for a Pennsylvania statute to compensate exonerees.
“Until I get compensation, I can’t rebuild my life,” Fogle told the senator.
“We need to make sure this person, having been wronged, has the ability to re-enter society, contribute to society and have the security to move forward,” said Marissa B. Bluestine, legal director of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project in Philadelphia.
Bluestine, who plans to introduce a bill to the legislature calling for compensation and re-entry awards for exonerees, also plans to have Fogle and other exonerees testify at legislative hearings across the state.
“No one is getting rich here. It’s just about justice so they can get on with their lives,” said Bluestine.
At this time, an exoneree’s compensation statute still has not been passed in the state of Pennsylvania.
By Noel Scott