State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, filed a bill to increase lump sum compensation from $50,000 to $80,000 for each year of incarceration. The bill also would require the state to pay some of the compensation in annuities, assuring exonerees a lifetime income. The payments would be retroactive to exonerees who already received lump sum payments, including Fountain, and would cease if there was a subsequent felony conviction.
"I don't imagine any of us locked up more than 20 years have a lot of experience managing personal finances," said Charles Chatman, who was exonerated in January 2008 after nearly 27 years.
The bill also would provide exonerees the same health insurance given to state employees, a crucial benefit for those who often emerge from prison with severe health problems but no way to get medical coverage.
Smith's lawyers attempted to sign him up for Social Security disability, which would have made him eligible for Medicare coverage. But the government rejected Smith's application, saying he hadn't paid enough into the system to qualify for benefits.
The article also focuses on problems with exonerees' reentry to society upon leaving prison that are the focus of bills by Senators Hegar and West in this afternoon's Senate Criminal Justice Committee hearing - the lack of social services for exonerees upon release:
Exoneration hearings have become common events in Dallas courtrooms in recent years. They've also highlighted the lack of social services available to the wrongly convicted.
Such services are commonplace for convicts paroled out of prison. Parolees receive $50 and a bus ticket to anywhere in Texas upon release, and another $50 when they meet up with their parole officers, said Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
There are re-entry centers in major cities that offer employment help, counseling and substance abuse treatment, and there are halfway houses for parolees who need additional supervision.
"We're not releasing people so they can be homeless," Clark said. "That doesn't happen."
But that's what routinely happens to exonerees, who are released suddenly and with no place to go.
"It's really terrible," Smith said. "People who get out on parole have a better chance of getting started on the right foot than a person who has been exonerated."
An ad hoc support system has sprung up in the absence of services from the state. Fellow exonerees have become fixtures at hearings for the newly freed.
See a further discussion of innocence-related bills up today in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee in this fact sheet from the Innocence Project of Texas.