Rebuilding after prison: Texas has spent $109 million on the wrongfully convicted

Dallas News - Nine years ago, Christopher Scott was sitting in a prison cell, serving a life sentence for a murder he didn’t commit, praying that someone would help prove his innocence.

Today, he's the subject of a successful documentary about his wrongful conviction, running a nonprofit that investigates the claims of wrongfully convicted inmates and wearing a $50,000 grin.

All that, Scott said, was made possible when the state of Texas paid him more than $1 million as a sort of apology for stealing more than 12 years of liberty from him. The state will pay him another $4,900 a month for the rest of his life.

Texas is one of the most generous states in the nation when it comes to compensating the wrongly convicted. It's paid a total of $109 million to 109 women and men, including Scott, who were wrongfully convicted.

Texas hasn't always been so generous to exonerees. Before 2001, only two people had received compensation, each getting about $25,000 for their time behind bars.

After reports of destitute exonerees who'd gone broke paying lawyers to pursue their cases and squandering what remained, lawmakers adopted a new payment plan in 2009. Those who have been found actually innocent by a Texas court are now eligible for $80,000 per year of incarceration in a lump sum when they are released. Texas pays them the same amount in an annuity that is doled out in monthly payments the rest of their lives.

"The cost is an investment the state needed to make in these people who have been wrongfully convicted," said Texas Tech University Chancellor Robert Duncan, a former senator who sponsored the law. "The price tag on it, I don't think anybody really knew what it would be over the long period of time."

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