Thirty-two states, including some known for being tough on crime, provide compensation by statute to people who were wrongfully incarcerated.
Kentucky is not among them.
A proposal to provide such relief in Kentucky failed to get out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2001 when it was proposed by state Sen. General Neal, D-Louisville. Then-Chairman Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, who is now Senate president, said then it “just wasn’t the right time for it.”
Neal said more recent efforts have also failed. A total of 10 bills have been introduced since 1998 by Neal and two other lawmakers and none of them have gotten a hearing.
“It is horrendous,” he said. “It undermines confidence in the justice system when we make mistakes, and people who are victims of them should be paid for them.” No such legislation is pending this year in the General Assembly.
The Innocence Project at New York’s Cardozo School of Law says states have a duty to try to restore the lives of wrongfully convicted people, who often are destitute when released and sometimes saddled with criminal records that are not erased despite their exoneration.
Rebecca Brown, its policy director, said state payments are important because many ex-inmates lack a strong civil claim.
The city of Louisville has spent $21.4 million on settlements since 2007, including $7.5 million announced this week for Kerry Porter, who spent 11 years behind bars after being convicted of a murder he did not commit.
Even if Kentucky had a compensation law, it wouldn’t necessarily preclude such lawsuits.
Only a half-dozen states with such statutes prohibit exonerated former inmates from suing as well, and the Innocence Project, founded in 1992, maintains such provisions are unconstitutional.
Statutory payments in states with compensation laws vary wildly:
► California pays $140 per day – or about $51,000 per year
► Connecticut pays between 75 percent and 200 percent of the median state household income, while Virginia pays 90 percent and Utah 100 percent of the average non-agricultural worker’s pay.
► Illinois pays on a sliding scale, based on the years of imprisonment, paying a maximum of $199,150 per year to those locked up for more than 14 years.
► Maine pays a maximum of $300,000 total, while Massachusetts and Nevada offer $500,000 total and Tennessee pays up to $1 million total.
► Some jurisdictions offer more for time on death row: The federal government offers twice as much per year, $100,000, to those who faced the death penalty, while Colorado offers $120,000 compared with $70,000 for those who wrongly served other sentences.
►Some states bar payments to ex-inmates who pleaded guilty; who were convicted of other felonies; or who couldn’t prove their conviction resulted from intentional acts.
Andrew Wolfson: 502-582-7189; email@example.com; Twitter: @adwolfson. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/andreww