Big Spender: Texas Has Paid $109M for Exonerations

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Nine years ago, Christopher Scott was sitting in a prison cell, serving a life sentence for a murder he didn’t commit, praying that someone would help prove his innocence. Today, he’s the subject of a successful documentary about his wrongful conviction and is running a nonprofit that investigates the claims of wrongfully convicted inmates. The Dallas Morning News reports that all of this was made possible when the state of Texas paid him more than $1 million for stealing more than 12 years of liberty from him. The state will pay him another $4,900 a month for the rest of his life. The money has helped him buy a home and a car and start his business.

“That compensation probably made me the person I am today,” Scott said. “That money helps you rebuild and restore your life, and it makes it where you can enjoy your life.” Texas is one of the most generous states in the nation when it comes to compensating the wrongly convicted. It has paid a total of $109 million to 109 women and men, including Scott, who were wrongfully convicted. Texas hasn’t always been generous to exonerees. Before 2001, only two people had received compensation, each getting about $25,000 for their time behind bars. In 2001, as DNA testing began to reveal that wrongful convictions were more pervasive than lawmakers imagined, they increased the amount exonerees could receive to $25,000 per year of incarceration, or $500,000 if the person had been in prison longer than 20 years. Since 2007, exonerees have received higher compensation in the form of annual or monthly payments as a result of changes to state law.

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