Richard Jones spent 17 years in a Kansas prison for a robbery committed by his doppelganger. When he was exonerated and released last June, he had little to his name other than what had been donated by members of the public who had heard his story.
With a new law signed by Gov. Jeff Colyer Tuesday, Jones plans to apply for restitution from the state.
Exonerees will be eligible for $65,000 for each year spent in prison on a false conviction, and another $25,000 for each year serving parole or listed on the registry for sex offenders. Those released before July 1 will have two years to claim the compensation.
Jones said that the money won’t change his past, but will help his future.
“I am definitely enjoying my life, but that’s going to be more about investing and planning for the future, (to) make sure that my kids and my grandkids are in a good place,” he said.
Lamonte McIntyre, who has spent most of his adult life in prison on double murder charges despite his innocence, said he would use the money to get a car and housing – something he has been struggling to get without a credit history. He was arrested when he was 17 and released in October after 23 years.
“I can live a normal life, like everyone else,” McIntyre said.
The new law also provides wrongfully imprisoned people with access to health care, education and housing assistance, and a certificate of innocence. That document could help exonerees clear hurdles to employment when a criminal conviction still shows up in a background check.
Kansas becomes the 33rd state to offer some kind of restitution for the wrongfully convicted.
“Years taken from men and women who have been wrongfully convicted cannot be given back,” Colyer said upon signing the bill. “However, this bill will make a large step in trying to right wrongs that were done to these individuals.”
Michelle Feldman, a legislative strategist with the national Innocence Project, called the Kansas law a model for the rest of the country and said she hopes it will inspire other states in the region to improve the compensation they provide.
Nebraska caps payouts at $500,000. Oklahoma has a $175,000 maximum. Missouri offers $18,000 for each year an innocent person spends in prison, but only to people exonerated through DNA evidence.
Anna Yakutenko is Alfred Friendly Press Partners fellow working at KCUR89.3. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.