​Michigan officials short on cash, can’t pay back wrongfully convicted prisoners who already served time

Michigan is supposed to pay wrongfully convicted citizens to make up for the time they spent in jail, but the problem is they don't have the money.

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The state of Michigan owes millions to wrongfully convicted citizens seeking to get back on their feet, but state officials say they can’t afford to honor those obligations.

According to The Detroit News, the state owes Nathaniel Hatchett $500,000 after he was arrested at age 17, charged with a sexual assault and spent 10 years in prison before DNA evidence exonerated him.

Under the 2016 Michigan Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act, Hatchett should receive $50,000 for each year he spent in prison. When he won his petition last December, Michigan Court of Claims Judge Colleen O’Brien, ordered the state to pay the 39-year old his full $500,000 by Jan. 16th. However, it’s now well into February and Hatchett has yet to see a penny.

Hatchett and other exonerated ex-prisoners like him, are still waiting for their money because there simply isn’t enough money in the fund to pay them.

“The state screwed these guys over by wrongfully convicting them, and now they’re screwing them again by withholding money that’s lawfully theirs,” said Hatchett’s attorney Wolfgang Mueller. “This is absolutely shameful.”

“It was good to get that judgment (for Hatchett), but it’s not worth the paper it’s written on since they refuse to pay him,” Mueller said. “My client is hurting. He’s unemployed. They need to give him his money.”

State’s Spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney released a statement assuring that public that Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is “working closely with her team to move forward as quickly as possible in evaluating these cases.”

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“However, she is deeply concerned about the level of funding available,” continues Rossman-McKinney. “The current balance in the fund is so low that a single case or two could deplete it. We cannot and should not lead people to believe they will be compensated for their wrongful incarceration if we are unwilling to appropriate the necessary funds.”

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Currently the exoneration fund contains about $1.6 million — which as Rossman-McKinney alluded to is $400,000 less than the $2 million it owes just one of the wrongfully convicted murderers on its list.

Richard Phillips is the individual in question. He spent 46 years in prison before his case was overturned, and he was released last March. Phillips has the unfortunate honor of being the longest-serving wrongfully convicted inmate in U.S. history, according to the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan.

Phillips has been forced to sell some of the watercolor paintings he created while in prison. To help him make ends meet, the Community Art Gallery in Ferndale, Michigan is hosting an exhibit featuring his artwork through February 18th.