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Exonerated prisoners eligible for increased compensation

On Thursday, a new state law took effect which makes wrongfully convicted persons eligible for as much as $25,000 per year for each year spent in prison, and up to a total of $250,000. That yearly amount is $10,000 higher than the previous limit. The new law will especially affect individuals who have been wrongfully imprisoned on charges of rape.

Under the new law, exonerated prisoners are eligible for up to $250,000, plus $80,000 for "loss of life opportunities" intended to cover three years of training for job skills and six years of counseling services. The latter amount had previously been capped at $40,000. Exonerated prisoners are also able to petition the state for additional money within the next year.

In order to receive the compensation, proof of innocence and a compensation application is filed in criminal court. Judges in those courts are in charge of how much an exonerated prisoner receives. Before the state treasury can send the check, the Legislature has to set aside the money. All in all, the process can take as much as a year, sometimes more.

Rep. Herbert Dixon of Alexandria, who was behind the law change, said he plans to move for an increase in the total amount wrongfully convicted persons are eligible for, up to $500,000.

The change in law was approved earlier this year by the legislature, even though many state agencies had funds cut and a budget shortfall prevails. Rep. Dixon said testimony from wrongfully convicted persons played a major part in building support for the new law.

According to sources, the state of Louisiana has paid almost $1.7 million to exonerated prisoners who spent time in prison for crimes they didn't commit. A minimum of 27 other states have similar compensation laws.

Source: Houston Chronicle, "New law boosts payment for wrongfully imprisoned," Melinda Deslatte, Sep 1, 2011.

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