State budget impasse means no payments for wrongly convicted inmates

ILLINOIS NEWS NETWORK

The state’s budget impasse is now affecting former inmates who were exonerated of their crimes.

According to a report in The Pantagraph, 14 men are owed a combined total of $2.5 million as compensation for the years they wrongfully served in prison.

Such payments were part of a settlement of wrongful imprisonment claims brought against the state, but, as of last week, the Illinois legislature had yet to approve the claims nor include payments in budget projections.

Illinois Innocence Project, which represents several of the claimants, stated that it understands the state is in a political quagmire, but that should not stop the legislature from fulfilling its obligations.

“The state of Illinois is fully obligated to pay these claims, of course, the state of Illinois is fully obligated to pay a lot of other bills,” John Hanlon, executive director at the Illinois Innocence Project, said. “Bills that are due and owed to vendors and individuals of all kinds, but it’s not happening because of the budget fiasco in the state.”

The state of Illinois has continued to operate for the past year and a half without a full budget. A series of court orders and temporary budgets have meant that only the state’s most essential day-to-day obligations are being met.

The budget impasse between the Republican governor and a Democrat-controlled legislature has resulted in vendors large and small going unpaid.

Hanlon explained that many of the people to whom the state owes money have few resources and face challenges that most take for granted.

“Family members who you might otherwise be able to count are gone or deceased, and the world has changed,” Hanlon said. “These gentlemen come out of prison and have never used phone … a cell phone; they have never put fingers on a keyboard of a computer. It’s just a whole different world.”

According to published reports, payments owed to the ex-inmates are computed based on time spent in prison. The outstanding payments range from $5,000 to $220,732.

Hanlon described the state’s action as rubbing salt into a wound.

“We’ve done everything to comply with the law that’s possible,” he said. “It’s the state that’s not complying with their statutes — it’s really shameful.”

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