March 26, 2012

Man spent 17 years in prison for a rape he did not commit, receives no compensation for time and money lost.

Alan Northrop was playing pool in 1993 when his life changed forever. He was lining up a bank shot when he felt something on his wrist: a handcuff.

Northrop was arrested for the rape and kidnapping of a housekeeper. "I instantly said, 'No, you've got the wrong guy,'" Northrop recalls telling detectives. But detectives believed the victim's testimony, although she was blindfolded for most of the attack. A jury agreed, sentencing Northrop, a father of three children under age 6, to 23 years in prison.

From behind bars, Northrop tried to prove police had the wrong guy. In 2000, he contacted the Innocence Project Northwest at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle.
For years, prosecutors denied the project's requests to use more advanced DNA testing on the evidence in Northrop's case. In 2005, a new state law gave judges the power to order additional testing. But it took five more years for Northrop's testing to be completed and for a court to consider the results that conclusively showed another man's DNA was on the victim.

In 2010, Northrop, still sitting in prison, got a letter with news he thought he might never get.

"I was jumping around the day room saying, 'I'm out of here! I'm out of here!'" Northrop said.

He walked out of prison a few months later, an experience he could barely describe. It was like every emotion you've ever had, it was so overwhelming, he said.

But because he was convicted in Washington, Northrop got little more than that feeling when he was released. Like 23 other states across the country, Washington provides no compensation for those who have been wrongfully convicted.

Northrop left prison with less than $2,500, money he had been sent while in prison and wages from his 42-cent-an-hour prison job. Had he been wrongfully convicted in one of the 27 states that do provide compensation, Northrop could have received hundreds of thousands of dollars for his 17 years behind bars.

State standards vary

According to an Innocence Project study, Northrop is among the 40% of exonerated prisoners nationwide who received nothing from authorities for their time behind bars. The report calls for all states to pass laws providing the same compensation that the federal government offers for federal crimes: $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration with an additional $50,000 for each year spent on death row. Today, five states have the same standard.

Money would give Northrop a chance to "just get started over again and have a normal life again," he said. He works full-time but lives in a small room in a friend's house because he can't afford his own apartment.

Even in the states that do offer compensation to the innocent, standards vary wildly. Some pay $50,000 per year. Two pay more (Texas and Vermont), but others less. Wisconsin pays $5,000 per year while Missouri pays $50 per day. New Hampshire sets an award cap of $20,000 while other states set a maximum of $500,000, $1 million or no limit.

According to the Innocence Project, exonerated prisoners who are eligible for compensation wait an average three years to receive their money. Most states tax the money, according to the Innocence Project Report.

Exonerees denied right to benefits

"There's sort of a gut reaction that this is a horrible injustice," said Innocence Project Northwest attorney Lara Zarowsky, who helped free Northrop. She is lobbying for a law in Washington state that would provide not only compensation for exonerated prisoners but also counseling, job training and other benefits that are currently available only to guilty former prisoners, not exonerees like Northrop.

Some tasks, like learning new technology or finding transportation, can be difficult for someone who has been out of society for a decade or more. Zarowsky is also pushing for mental and physical health care benefits for exonerees.

Washington state agencies "just say flat out they're not eligible because they weren't actually guilty so they don't qualify, they don't fit our criteria," Zarowsky said.

Nationwide, 10 states provide social services to help the innocent recover from their time in prison.

"It's not all about the money," Northrop said. "It's about possible counseling for certain individuals. ... People have no idea what effect stress has on a person in there. ... What that does to a mindset is just devastating. Terrible."


  1. Most of the people in DA's offices around this "free" nation should themselves be put in jail for subverting justice to advance their own careers! Too much red tape, too many plea bargains, too much politics, too much hate, too much ignorance . . . sadly the list goes on!

  2. At the minimum he needs to sue the idiot housekeeper. Sure she may not have a dime but chances are she is married and quite well off living high on the hog while he suffered. She needs to feel some of the pain of scrutiny because she was directly responsible.

  3. Those who put them there should have their assets seized and liquidated and the cash given to this man unjustly and UNCONSTITUTIONALLY imprisoned.

  4. Absolutely disgusting. Absolute tragedy.
    Analogous to same are the children who are forced to be injected with mandated vaccines but who are unable to be compensated because of a corrupted CDC, medical establishment and Supreme Court. This is all so very sickening, but at least the gentleman was able to overturn his conviction and get out. Much worse for the kids damaged by the mandated vaccines who spend a life in a different kind of prison without compensation.

  5. I can hear it now ... multi bazillion dollar law suit.
    Go to show though that the cops are only interested in closing cases not getting at the truth. I'm all warm and fuzzy now.

  6. Should sue .Make them pay.

  7. If he was housed in a privatized prison, he may be shocked to receive an astronomical bill for his room and board..

  8. jail those who sent him to prison!

  9. Everything the state says is a lie and everything it has it has stolen. Frederick Wilhelm Nietzsche

  10. Millions, no make that billions, no make that trillions for the rich, powerful and the bankers. NOTHING for the people. NOTHING, NOTHING!!!!

  11. "Washington state agencies "just say flat out they're not eligible because they weren't actually guilty so they don't qualify"

    So it'd alright to incarcerate innocent people for years knowing they aren't guilty.

    Weird country.

  12. Nice show of compassion from liberal state.

  13. What a great shame. ALL those Bitches had to do was get the dna and this man would not of been in prison. They should ALL be recalled and given a sentence. The maid should be recalled to just to make sure she wasn't pressured into blaming this guy.

  14. He can't -- it's called "Sovereign Immunity." Their State Legislature would have to first pass a Bill giving him permission to sue the state. You can guess the likelihood of that happening.