Growing up in Louisiana, my mother could make us behave by simply mentioning one of the most notorious prisons: Angola state penitentiary. Anyone who survived Angola was beyond tough. Imagine what it must have taken if that person was also innocent and sitting on death row.
Glenn Ford, 64, spent three decades in prison for a murder he did not commit. From day one, Ford maintained his innocence, adamant he was never at a 1983 crime scene in Shreveport. New evidence supports the claim, and he was set free March 11.
While I’m thrilled to see another innocent man freed, I don’t understand why some states do not meet the basic federal standard — $50,000 of compensation for every year of wrongful incarceration — after people are proved innocent of crimes that shattered their lives.
A wide range
Louisiana is one of 29 states that have a range of compensation. Ford is entitled to $25,000 per year, not to exceed $250,000. Plus, the state offers $80,000 for any “loss of life opportunities.” Not only is it an insult to cap Ford’s compensation, he will have to pay state taxes on the money and may have legal fees. Some states require an exoneree to apply for a full pardon from the governor, which can take longer than a year, before he or she is eligible for compensation.
According to the Innocence Project in New York, one-third of exonerees have not been compensated at all. Some state laws allow officials to deny assistance if an exoneree pleaded guilty under duress, or if the case was not overturned due to DNA. Why should those proved innocent have to file civil lawsuits to receive compensation?
Restriction on services
Adding to the injustice, paroled guilty offenders are entitled to more services than exonerees when released, including job training, housing and counseling.
As the first non-lawyer to serve on the board of directors for the Innocence Project of Texas, I was proud to work alongside lawyers, exonerees, legislators and the family of Tim Cole, who was wrongly convicted of rape, to lobby for legislation, which later became the Tim Cole Act.
The 2009 act has made Texas the most generous in the nation by increasing the compensation from $50,000 to $80,000 per year wrongly imprisoned. The exoneree is awarded half in a “lump sum” up front, with the other half earmarked for an annuity that pays monthly benefits for the “life of the exoneree,” along with health care and prepaid college tuition. There are no state income taxes in Texas, and exonerees do not pay federal taxes under the act. Other states should look at the Texas model.
Ford is among more than 130 people released from death row since 1973 after new evidence, a fact that should remind us that no amount of money can give a man his life back.