Friday, September 4, 2009

Wrongfully Imprisoned Compensated in Texas

There is a lot for which Texas prisons can be criticised. They are riddled with violence that is far more frequently perpetrated by inmates that guards, with a blind eye turned by the prison administration. But Texas has passed legislation that is a shining beacon of light to other states. The State of Texas has passed legislation that compensates the wrongly convicted with a generous package of monetary compensation and post incarceration counseling and educational assistance to ease the transition to life on the outside. Associated Press reports as follows.

"Exonerees will get $80,000 for each year they spent behind bars. The compensation also includes lifetime annuity payments that for most of the wrongly convicted are worth between $40,000 and $50,000 a year - making it by far the nation's most generous package."

The article continues as follows in describing the services provided to exonerees.

"Exonerees also receive an array of social services, including job training, tuition credits and access to medical and dental treatment. Though 27 other states have some form of compensation law for the wrongly convicted, none comes close to offering the social services and money Texas provides.

The annuity payments are especially popular among exonerees, who acknowledge their lack of experience in managing personal finances. A social worker who meets with the exonerees is setting them up with financial advisers and has led discussions alerting them to swindlers.

The annuities are "a way to guarantee these guys ... payments for life as long as they follow the law," said Kevin Glasheen, a Lubbock attorney representing a dozen exonerees."

The compensation paid by the State of Texas is given on the condition that the exoneree drops all litigation against the Texas government. The size and scope of the compensation provided is a strong incentive for the wrongfully convicted to settle. Additionally, it corrects an anomaly in which parolees who were justly convicted received more help in fitting back into society than people who were belatedly found innocent. It is worth noting in reading the AP article that one attorney alone was able to find a dozen exonerees.

If prison and capital punishment are an expression of society's anger at criminal behavior, this law in Texas is a fitting expression of society's aversion to wrongfully inflicted punishment. It is a tribute to the decency of the Texan legislature and people that this law was passed. If there are hundreds or thousands of wrongfully convicted who need to be compensated for their years in prison, then we must step up to the plate and pay the price.

I hope that other states follow the lead of Texas in passing similar legislation. There are two additional steps that should be considered in Texas and elsewhere.

1) Restructure prisons in a way that cuts out prison violence and does away with the need for seeking protection by joining prison gangs. Prisons should be austere yet safe places in which restitution and rehabilitation are part of the program. Whether innocent or guilty, those incarcerated should not be so traumatised by their prison experience that they experience a life time of mental illness.

2) It is expensive to incarcerate a prisoner. Prisoners should have proper representation prior to conviction to make sure that innocent people are not being locked up.

Texas has long had issues with violence in prisons. It has a lot to do to clean that problem up. But it should be saluted and emulated for its trailblazing work in compensating the wrongfully convicted. Thank you Texas.

Innocence Project of Texas Sphere: Related Content

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