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Wrongful imprisonment claims in Finland quadruple in 10 years

The Finnish government has been paying out increasingly large sums of money to people wrongfully convicted and imprisoned.

The government pays you money if it is discovered that you have been imprisoned unjustly. Image: Enja Heikkilä / Yle

The number of individuals who've received compensation for being wrongfully convicted and imprisoned has quadrupled in a decade.

Last year the state compensated such individuals to the tune of about three million euros, compared to some 720,000 euros in 2007. Since 2007 the euro amount of the compensation claims have risen steadily each year, but a major spike in payouts occurred in 2015.

Chief of Legal Affairs at the State Treasury, Pekka Syrjänen says the increase is due to courts handing out longer prison sentences for more serious crimes, resulting in turn in higher compensation claims.

Overturned drug charges typical

Syrjänen says he is unwilling to discuss the specifics of individual compensation cases, but notes that last year's record-breaking sum was mostly caused by claims paid out to just five individuals.

Foreign nationals in particular have been deprived of liberty for longer than others in recent years, he says.

Police may arrest a suspect if he or she has no permanent residence status in Finland, and if they consider it likely that by leaving the country the suspect will avoid a preliminary investigation, trial and sentencing.

Syrjänen points to suspected aggravated drug crimes as typical cases that involve protracted periods of detention.

"Someone from abroad comes to Finland with their car, is stopped by Customs and a large quantity of narcotics in found in the boot," says Syrjänen. Police investigate the case as an aggravated offence and press charges, but a district court may then find insufficient evidence to prosecute. This process generally takes several months, he explains.

100—120 euros per day

According to the law, any loss of liberty that lasts for more than 24 hours automatically warrants compensation.

The basic level of compensation is 100-120 euros per day of imprisonment, but reparation can be increased based on the duration of imprisonment, the seriousness of the charges and the age of the suspect.

Syrjänen says that compensation is most often paid to individuals wrongly imprisoned for less than a week.

He goes on to say that people who receive compensation to cover court costs – "mostly foreigners" – tend to have been unlawfully incarcerated for around six months.

Bigger payouts go public

Cases involving large payouts that appear in the news media are ones in which the daily claims are in the hundreds.

A Brazilian volleyball player who was wrongfully charged with aggravated rape last year received a total of 200,000 euros in compensation, bringing the per diem payment related his year-long stay to some 500 euros.

In 2016 Anneli Auer unsuccessfully filed a claim for damages of 2.5 million euros for her imprisonment over the alleged murder of her husband, a charge on which she was eventually acquitted. She received some 500,000 euros, after having served just over 600 days in prison.

Compensation has been paid to people wrongly convicted and later pardoned since the 1970s.

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