In Texas, as in any state, some people get sent to prison incorrectly. When they're exonerated (which happens now more than ever, thanks to DNA evidence), it's up to the state to compensate them for their lost years, and at this point that means a lump-sum payout of $80,000 for every year they were wrongly incarcerated, plus a monthly annuity of another $80,000 per lost year. It's the highest such compensation rate in the country, according to a Texas Tribune article from Friday. But as that story points out, the sum keeps changing -- just three years ago it was at $50,000 per year, plus a matching annuity and $25,000 just two years before that. That rapidly increasing payout rate does not sit well with some former inmates who were exonerated before the raises went into effect. Their annuities go up, but their lump sums don't, so someone freed in 2008 gets $30,000 less per year of incarceration than one freed in 2009, when the $80,000 figure went into effect. Inmates who feel shorted have sued for retroactive payouts, but as Democratic State Senatory Rodney Ellis told the Tribune, "Unfortunately, there has been consistent resistance in the Legislature to make the lump sum-payment aspect of these reforms retroactive." By the time lawyers' fees are paid, the lump sums are often gone, and at least one inmate was found sleeping behind a Dallas liquor store after squandering his payout. It surely beats prison, but not by much.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.