Last Modified: Monday, June 11, 2012 6:14 PM
Louisiana’s budget crisis threw another curve to people who have been imprisoned after being wrongly convicted of a serious crime in the state.
An attempt to increase compensation for such people went nowhere this past session.
With the state budget under siege, state lawmakers decided earlier this month that the $250,000 maximum compensation was more than fair.
Attorneys for wrongly imprisoned people had sought to raise the maximum compensation ceiling to $500,000, matching Mississippi’s maximum level. Texas’ maximum compensation for wrongful conviction is $1.5 million.
Louisiana’s compensation fund, established in 2005, originally was capped at $150,000.
Currently, 16 men in Louisiana are eligible for the compensation, including Henry James, who spent 30 years behind bars for a rape he didn’t commit. DNA ruled out James as the rapist.
House Bill 167 by state Rep. Herbert Dixon, D-Alexandria, proposed paying wrongly convicted people $25,000 a year as compensation for “the loss of life opportunities” with a maximum total compensation of $500,000.
In testimony before the House Criminal Justice Committee, Dixon said Gov. Bobby Jindal said he would not support the increase because of the tight budget.
Dixon deleted the compensation increase from his bill, but stayed the course on streamlining the process.
Currently, exonerated people must petition a court and receive a judge’s order that they are eligible for compensation. That order is then taken to the state for inclusion in the state appropriations bill.
The exonerated must hire a lawyer every year to file the necessary paperwork, thus cutting into their compensation.
Dixon’s bill that was approved by the chambers and now awaits the governor’s signature requires that the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Criminal Justice be responsible for filing with the Legislature and governor the number and amount of compensation awards that should be paid out during the year.
Dixon’s bill also establishes an Innocence Compensation Fund that would draw money from appropriations, donations and grants.
We hope Gov. Jindal will sign the consolation prize that will ease the logistics of these people so that they may receive compensation.
This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Dennis Spears, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.