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Bill Would Take Unjust Imprisonment Pay Out Of Budget Process

Brian Mackey/NPR Illinois
James Kluppelberg says he was freed with only the $14.70 he had in his prison account: "They opened the door and they said: 'Leave.'" He testified before an Illinois Senate subcommittee about compensation for the wrongfully imprisoned.

The Illinois budget stalemate has held up compensation for people who’ve been unjustly imprisoned. But a bipartisan group of state senators took a step toward fixing that Thursday.

James Kluppelberg spent nearly 25 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. But freedom presented its own challenges.

“I had $14 and, I believe, 70-some cents on my prison account at the time,” Kluppelberg told a Senate panel. “They handed that to me, and they opened the door and they said, ‘Leave.’”

Illinois law has a complicated legal process for innocent people to receive compensation. Kluppelberg got his payment in 2014, but the lack of a budget means at least 18 more recent exonerees are still waiting.

Senate Bill 1993 would make sure those debts are paid even without a full budget. It was approved in committee with unanimous bipartisan support and now heads for a floor vote.



Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.