In recent years, things have been getting a little bit better for prison inmates who are suddenly released because they are innocent, although it's far from enough.
Loyola University Chicago, for example, has set up the Life After Innocence Project. It's headed by Laura Caldwell, who is both a lawyer and author of popular crime mysteries (her latest trilogy features Izzy McNeil, a sassy red-headed lawyer from Chicago). The project helps people like Dean Cage, who was falsely imprisoned in 1996 for rape. He spent 14 years in prison.
"When he got out, if he had been a rapist, if he had been the person that committed the crime, he would have had a parole officer who would ostensibly check in with him and make some suggestions on what he should do," Caldwell says. "He would have a halfway house, job services to apply for, medical treatment for ex-offenders.
"He was entitled to none of it. He was called to the warden's office, he was given a sweat suit, he was literally given pat on the back. ... He said, 'I sometimes feel people dropped me in Bangkok.' "
After it was created last year, the Life After Innocence Project came to Cage's aid.
Another beneficial change, pushed by the Center on Wrongful Convictions, went into effect in the fall of 2008. It streamlines the procedure exonerees follow to get compensation from the state. If someone is pardoned, the paperwork goes directly to the state's court of claims, and the law requires that the exoneree must be paid within 60 days. Dean Cage was among the first people to benefit from that law.
The state should do more for innocent people whose jobs and community support systems may have disappeared while they were in prison. But it's hard to see how that would be funded right now - when the state has no money - or seem like a priority when so many other people also are out of work.
Meanwhile, people are doing what they can to help. Karen Daniel of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, for example, says, "I know a lawyer who took [an exoneree] home with her. All his family had died while he was away."