Proponents say the legislation brings Georgia in line with more than three dozen other U.S. states and the federal government, which have standard procedures in place for the wrongfully convicted, who often struggle to pay bills and with health problems.
Under Georgia’s current process, exonerees must lobby the General Assembly for a private resolution to receive compensation, a process that often gets bogged down by politics. They must also present their case to an advisory board under the Secretary of State’s office that’s designed to process smaller claims from people harmed by state agencies. Advocates for the wrongfully convicted say that the board was never intended to hear claims from people who were grossly mishandled by the criminal justice system — indeed, the body has never recommended payment for an exoneree.
“When exonerees come out of prison, they often have nothing. No job. No home. No reentry services to help them. I believe the vast majority of Georgia taxpayers would see this as an important issue of justice,” said Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, the bill’s lead sponsor.
Separately, the House on Tuesday passed individual compensation packages for Dennis Perry and Kerry Robinson, who respectively spent 20 and 18 years in Georgia prisons for crimes that DNA evidence later proved they didn’t commit.
Earlier, lawmakers shelved a compensation for a third exoneree, Ashley Jordan, who was 12 years into a life sentence when the Georgia Supreme Court overturned her conviction last year.
The measures compensating Perry and Robinson, and well as the broader overhaul, now await passage in the Senate.