56 people have been wrongly convicted in the State of Louisiana.
Kia Hall Hayes says, “No one is immune from being wrongly convicted. This is something that could happen to anybody.”
30 percent of exonerees never receive any compensation from the state, according to the Innocence Project New Orleans.
“The point of the compensation statute is to recognize the harm caused by the state and to try to compensate the exoneree for that harm.”
Before 2004 when state representative Cedric Glover passed legislation to compensate those incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit, exonerees walked out of the Louisiana State Penitentiary with nothing.
Michael Williams and Calvin Willis both spent more than 20 years behind bars before DNA evidence freed them. That is what motivated Glover to take action.
His legislation was modeled after the State of Texas, which at that time granted exonerees $25,000 a year.
After receiving push back, Glover says he reached a compromise with Louisiana lawmakers of $10,000 a year in compensation with a $150,000 maximum.
Hayes adds, compensation is not guaranteed and if it is granted it could take two year before the wrongly convicted start receiving payments. That’s why the Innocence Project New Orleans sets up cell phone accounts and help exonerees with housing and create online fundraisers.
“I see first hand how exonerees struggle to rebuild their lives after they walk out of prison with nothing but the clothes on their back.”
Hayes explains 17 exonerees were not awarded compensation, either because they failed to file for compensation in time or because the court did not find their evidence of innocence strong enough. Glenn Ford was one of those cases.
It prompted, Glover’s unsuccessful attempt at the state capital to provide compensation to Ford’s family, but it called into question the definition of factual innocence.
Strides continue to be made and this past legislative session, the Innocence Project New Orleans worked with State Representative Ted James to ensure exonerees receive up front funding for loss of life opportunities like job training.
Right now exonerees are being granted $25,000 a year for only ten years, which is one of the lowest compensation rates in the country. Glover says more work should be done to increase that number.
“There’s been a lot of unfairness in our Louisiana criminal justice system. There are a lot of folks who are doing time for things that they did not do, but they did not have the resources to be able to effectively advocate their case and achieve their freedom.”
There are nine people who were recently exonerated in Louisiana, who have petitions pending or have not yet filed for compensation.