However, a cruel and ironic twist on the problem shows up regarding recent DNA exonerees in Texas and around the country: Since the cases against them were dismissed, they're not even entitled to the minimal level of re-entry assistance given to someone on parole leaving prison who actually committed a crime.
To help with exonerees' re-entry dilemma, the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health gave a grant to UT-Arlington's school of social work to provide counseling services and study what re-entry needs exonerees have in common. Although DNA exonerations often represent the end of a years-long legal battle, reports the Fort Worth Star Telegram ("UTA professors get grant to study exonerated men's adjustment to freedom," Nov. 26):
two professors at the University of Texas at Arlington say that is hardly the end of the story for the exonerated men themselves.Kudos to the Hogg Foundation and Jaimie Page at UTA for being pro-active to address a problem that didn't really exist on the scale it does now before the rise of DNA testing.
"Basically, for these guys, the story really starts when they walk out of the courthouse," said John Stickels, a professor of criminal justice and jurisprudence at UT-Arlington. "They can’t get a driver’s license or Social Security card. People won’t rent to them because they think they must have done something wrong. They can’t get medical treatment. It’s just starting over completely.
"What we hope to do is help prepare them for when they walk out that door," said Stickels, who with social work professor Jaimie Page is studying ways to ease the former inmates’ transition to the free world.
That research has received a significant boost. The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health in Austin announced Tuesday that the study project has been awarded an $80,990 grant.
"This grant will help [Page and Stickels] address an area of mental health that has long been overlooked," said Dr. Octavio Martinez Jr., executive director of the foundation. "Exonerees deserve and should receive the resources needed to re-establish their lives."
In the last decade, more than 30 prisoners in Texas and 200 nationally have been exonerated, most of them by using DNA testing to establish their innocence, said Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel of the Innocence Project of Texas, which has collaborated with the UT-Arlington project.
Speaking of which, the Dallas News yesterday interviewed recent exoneree Patrick Waller to see how he's doing heading into his first, post-incarceration Turkey Day and ask him what he's thankful for - there's definitely a lot, as described in this hopeful piece. I'm glad to read that he's faring better than some of the other exonerees who've gotten out, particularly those who lack strong family support.