Ohio lawmakers want to award free college tuition and lifetime medical care to the women held captive for a decade in a Cleveland man’s house.
A bill introduced this week in the Ohio House would also award at least $25,000 annually for each year of captivity to anyone who is abducted for eight years or more and to children born as a result of such a kidnapping.
The bill is named the Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus Survivors of Abduction Act for the three women who were held captive for around a decade or more in the home of Ariel Castro, 52, and rescued on May 6.
Berry gave birth to a daughter, now 6, while in captivity.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. John Barnes, D-Cleveland, said he wants to make sure that the three women are compensated for their lost opportunities while they were in captivity, including their right to a public education.
Barnes said he doesn’t want to do anything to discourage private philanthropic efforts to give to the three victims, but is concerned that the giving may not continue once the story fades out of headlines.
“This was perhaps one of the most tragic and protracted crimes in the history of our community and the state of Ohio,” Barnes said. “Those three families have a very long road to recovery.”
The benefits would be paid for out of the Ohio Attorney General’s Victims of Crime program, which is funded through federal grants, court fines and license fees. The women would be able to attend five years’ worth of classes at a state college, university, community college or technical school with their living expenses paid, and would receive free health care for life.
The legal-crisis management team representing the women said they continue to spend quiet time with family and friends and preferred not to comment on the bill.
But their attorney, Jim Wooley, said, “Anything the community does to support these women is greatly appreciated.”
The bill has support from both sides of the aisle and from outside northeast Ohio.
“It seems to me as a society that we need to do what we can to help compensate for the horrible situation that they lived in,” said Rep. Cheryl Grossman, R-Columbus, who is also a sponsor of the bill.
Castro, a former bus driver for Cleveland city schools, is held in Cuyahoga County Jail awaiting trial, and faces charges of kidnapping and rape. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty has said he plans to pursue the death penalty against Castro, hoping to charge him with aggravated murder for forcing one of the women into multiple miscarriages.
Staff Writer Jackie Borchardt and the Associated Press contributed to this report.