State gets case right, but not compensation

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 17, 2005

How much is one year of your life worth? Well, if you ask the state of Ohio, it is probably far less than you think.

For one Cleveland man, the state decided that one year of his life was worth $38,667. The problem, however, is that Donte Booker served 16 years in prison for a rape he did not commit. Entering the justice system as a 22-year-old man with a questionable past, Booker left approaching middle age and many years of hard time under his belt.

Booker's case is perfect illustration of something that is right with the state and something that is wrong.

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On the positive side, lies the state-funded DNA testing that may have saved many more years for Booker and others like him. Because he had never pleaded guilty, Booker was able to take a DNA test that proved what he claimed all along - he was innocent.

DNA tests are certainly not cheap and are yet another drain on the taxpayers. However, that program is money well spent if we can save even one of the "Donte Bookers" of the world from the agony of having to serve a minute of undeserved prison time.

We know that Booker is not likely an angel and many of the people in prison may abuse such a policy, but we must provide safeguards to catch those who slip through the cracks of our justice system.

We can only imagine what it must have been like for Booker and others who have been wrongfully imprisoned must go through while incarcerated. Knowing that you are innocent would make it even more unbearable. That brings up the point of what is wrong with the state's system of compensation.

As it is currently outlined, the state will pay $40,330 for each year of wrongful imprisonment plus lost wages and attorney fees. Booker did not even receive that because his criminal past. Once he pays his attorney fees, he will likely receive far less than that.

Something is wrong with a system that can take nearly a quarter of a man's life and barely compensate him for what he would have earned at a decent paying job.

Some may argue that Booker would not have held a job and would have continued a life of crime. Who are we to judge?

So if the prison stripes were on you, how much would a year of your life be worth? We have to believe any human life is certainly worth more than $106 a day.