A steady increase in exonerations in recent years, often a result of new DNA-testing capability, has prompted more state legislators to consider guaranteeing compensation for those who are wrongfully convicted and imprisoned, Stateline reports. In the 32 states that have compensation laws, some lawmakers have sought to increase the amount of compensation exonerated individuals would receive, expand the eligibility for compensation or streamline the process for getting it. “When an innocent person is deprived of liberty because of a wrongful conviction, regardless of fault, the government has a responsibility to do all it can to foster that person’s re-entry in order to help restore some sense of justice,” said Maddy deLone of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit that specializes in wrongful conviction cases. “Fair compensation is part of that.”
According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 2,000 wrongfully convicted individuals have been exonerated for state and federal crimes since 1989. In 2016, there were 166 exonerations nationwide, the most since the registry was established nearly 30 years ago. In 2004, Congress passed the Justice for All Act with bipartisan support. The law guarantees individuals exonerated of federal crimes $50,000 for every year spent in prison and $100,000 for every year spent on death row. From state to state, those who are exonerated are not guaranteed the same rights or compensation after a conviction is overturned. “It really matters where you’re convicted,” said Amol Sinha of the Innocence Project. In Texas, a state known for its tough-on-crime posture, the exonerated are paid $80,000 for every year spent in prison and are eligible for monthly annuity payments after release. The state’s generous compensation law has added up over time. In the last 25 years, Texas has paid $93 million to wrongfully convicted individuals. Wisconsin, on the other hand, pays $5,000 for every year spent in prison, capped at a maximum of $25,000.