Georgia lawmakers crafting new plan to compensate wrongfully incarcerated people 

The Bipartisan effort will streamline the system and speed up the process for paying wrongful conviction claims.

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A group of Georgia lawmakers is working to create a more streamlined system that allows wrongfully incarcerated persons to apply for restitution. 

According to a report from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the process is currently inconsistent and can take months, if not years, for exonerees to be paid. Further, the report notes that the process is often influenced by broader political dynamics. 

A bipartisan group of Georgia lawmakers is working to create a more streamlined system that allows wrongfully incarcerated persons to apply for restitution. (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“It’s really not fair to … somebody for whom the system failed and failed in about the worst possible way,” Democratic state Rep. Scott Holcomb of Atlanta, a lawyer and former prosecutor, told The AJC

There are dozens of Georgians who have been exonerated after wrongful convictions since the 1980s, three of whom were featured in the report, who spent a combined 50 years in prison for crimes they have been exonerated for. All three are currently seeking a combined amount of nearly $3 million in compensation from the state. They were freed due to DNA evidence, as well as potential perjury, false confessions or misconduct by law enforcement.

HB 1354 is a bipartisan effort that will create a more uniform, consistent process. It will establish the Wrongful Conviction Compensation Review Panel, which will, in part, vet the evidence to be considered. It provides “for evaluation of claims by such panel; to provide for notice of claims, forms and hearings; to provide for such panel to make recommendations to such board; to provide for the deduction of monetary awards from sums recommended by such panel; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws and for other purposes.”

The new review panel will be made up of legal experts in wrongful conviction who will evaluate the individual claims and recommend a dollar figure to the chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, who will send that budget request to lawmakers. 

Holcomb is the author of the bill. It is co-authored by state reps Penny Houston and Chuck Efstration, both Republicans, and Carolyn Hugley, also a Democrat. 

“Money ultimately cannot compensate a person for that lost time,” Efstration, chairman of the Georgia House Judiciary Committee, told The AJC. “But ensuring that we have a procedure in place for compensation questions is I believe good for all involved.”

Currently, the process requires a lawmaker to sign off on a claim submitted to the Claims Advisory Board, which examines the cases. Additionally, the General Assembly must find money to pay the claim in the state budget, which has created inconsistency in results. 

“That allows the opportunity for people to come in and make accusations that basically cannot be refuted because there’s no standards,” said Clare Gilbert, executive director of the Georgia Innocence Project. “It can begin to produce unequal and inequitable results, which we have seen over time.”

According to the report, the 10 Georgians who have been compensated by the state after being wrongfully convicted were awarded an average of $39,000 per year of incarceration, but that dollar amount greatly varies per person. 

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