AUSTIN, Texas – Texas is seeing a decrease in the number of wrongfully convicted people receiving compensation.
Mike Ware, the executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas, told The Dallas Morning News that it's becoming more difficult and time-consuming to identify, investigate and successfully litigate cases involving a wrongful conviction.
Only one person was added to the compensation list in 2016, down from 15 in 2009, according to official records.
A large amount of exonerations and payouts were initially expected after lawmakers expanded DNA access in 2001, said Shannon Edmonds, staff attorney and head of governmental relations for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. The pace of exonerations has slowed after most of the available DNA from decades-old cases has been processed, he said.
Texas adopted a payment plan for the wrongfully convicted in 2009. It awards them up to $80,000 per year of incarceration in a lump payment when they're released and continues to pay them the same amount in annuity for the rest of their lives.
Texas has given more than $100 million to more than 100 people who were wrongly convicted of a crime.
"The cost is an investment the state needed to make in these people who have been wrongfully convicted," said Texas Tech University Chancellor Robert Duncan, a former senator who sponsored the law. "The price tag on it, I don't think anybody really knew what it would be over the long period of time."
The wrongfully convicted can also get other benefits such as state health insurance and tuition reimbursement.
"The whole goal of the law was to try to get people back on their feet," said Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, who authored the 2009 compensation law.
Christopher Scott, 47, spent 12 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. He was exonerated by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals exonerated in 2010 and received more than $1 million.
"That compensation probably made me the person I am today," Scott said. "That money helps you rebuild and restore your life, and it makes it where you can enjoy your life."
Scott used some of the money to start the House of Renewed Hope, which works to investigate the innocence claims of people in prison.
Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com