Kansas Pays Nothing To Those Wrongly Imprisoned, But New Bill Aims To Change That
If you’re released from prison in some states after a wrongful conviction, you could be owed millions of dollars or a promise of a college education.
In Kansas and 17 other states, you get nothing.
On Wednesday, lawmakers heard from men who’d lost decades behind bars on bogus convictions. They emerged middle-aged and broke, with no work history or credit rating.
A bill under consideration would promise $80,000 for every year a later-exonerated person spent in prison and an additional $25,000 for each year on probation or parole.
Lamonte McIntyre spent 23 years in prison for a double murder in Wyandotte County he didn’t commit. He struggles just to get by. He told a Senate committee that financial compensation would help because he was locked up during a period of his life when most people would be building a career.
“All that passed me,” he said. “It would help me by way of getting myself established as a man in America, basically.”
Another man wrongly convicted of a rape and murder, Floyd Bledsoe, said that once he was released it wasn’t as if life returned to normal. He’s had difficulty finding jobs. Background checks will show his criminal convictions, even though he’s been exonerated.
“I had to work for myself because it was so hard to find a job,” Bledsoe said. “It’s an uphill battle. It’s a day-to-day battle.”
Bledsoe said he lost 16 years of his life, his family and all his possessions. Compensation, he said, would help relieve the financial pressure on him and other people who have been exonerated.
“It would give people legs to make it in life,” he said. “It would help us to build a retirement fund.”
Kansas is one of 18 states that has no law on the books to compensate someone locked up on a botched conviction, according to the Innocence Project.
States that do offer compensation set widely varying rules. Montana won’t pay cash, but will cover university or community college expenses. Florida pays $50,000 a year up to $2 million.
Missouri offers $50 for every day spent behind bars. Colorado pays $70,000 for each year, another $50,000 for every year on death row and $25,000 per year on probation, parole or on a sex offender registry. Nebraska sets no standard, but caps compensation at $500,000 total. Oklahoma has a $175,000 maximum.
“This bill would really put Kansas squarely in line with what other states do,” said Michelle Feldman, with the Innocence Project.
The change could ultimately save Kansas taxpayers money, Feldman said.
She pointed to the example of Eddie Lowery, convicted of rape and other charges in 1982. In 2003, a court wiped out his conviction based on DNA evidence.
He ultimately sued Riley County and won a $7.5 million settlement that showed up in a special assessment in residents’ property tax bills.
Feldman said a fair compensation plan for people wrongly convicted could help prevent larger settlements stemming from lawsuits.
“So this is really a better solution for the taxpayers and the exonerees,” Feldman said.
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican Rick Wilborn, said he plans for the committee to amend and debate the bill on Monday.
Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @KPRKoranda.