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Illinois Resumes Compensation For The Unjustly Imprisoned

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Illinois is making good on some of its most overdue bills: compensating people who were unjustly imprisoned.

When prisoners have done their time, Illinois gives them “gate money” — enough for a bus ride home. But no such courtesy is offered to people who are freed after a wrongful conviction.

“I had $14 and I believe 70-some cents on my prison account at the time,” said James Kluppelberg, who spent 25 years in prison for someone else’s crimes. “They handed that to me, and they opened the door and they said: ‘Leave.’”

Illinois law does call for compensating the wrongfully imprisoned. Kluppelberg was eventually paid, but the lack of a budget has kept at least 18 exonerees waiting, some since 2015. The budget passed earlier this month means the state can finally fulfill its obligations.

Some payments were processed Friday; the rest are expected soon. Illinois's compensation for people who are innocent is based on time served — the max range is 14 or more years, which state law says is worth $220,000.

But some exonerees have not been able to wait. At a hearing in May, Kluppelberg told senators he had to get an advance on his payment that had an interest rate of 60%. This occurred when Kluppelberg was waiting for his compensation.

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.