Kansas can’t fully repay the wrongfully convicted. But the state should try

Kansas is among 18 states that does not compensate people who were wrongfully convicted, such as Lamonte McIntyre, who spent 23 years in prison.
Kansas is among 18 states that does not compensate people who were wrongfully convicted, such as Lamonte McIntyre, who spent 23 years in prison. File photo

Lamonte McIntyre is still wearing his prison-issued, black-frame glasses.

He can’t afford the steep price he was quoted for a new pair and a new prescription. That’s the sad reality for a man who wasn’t employed for 23 years because he was incarcerated for a double murder he didn’t commit.

Richard Jones has been approached for handouts by people who assume he’s sitting on a wad of cash, given that he served 17 years for a robbery that he didn’t commit. You might recognize him as the doppelganger who was misidentified in a highly questionable police photo lineup, confused with a man who had a similar hairstyle and skin tone.

Floyd Bledsoe tried to get a car loan but was told he’d have to pay a 24 percent interest rate because he had no credit history. He also applied for a job recently and was told that his background check showed he was still in prison. He’s been out for almost two years, exonerated by DNA evidence for a murder his brother committed.

The state of Kansas granted these men their freedom because it was proven that each was wrongfully convicted. It’s past time for the state to do right by them. They shouldn’t have to sue for modest compensation for the years they can’t get back.

All three men entered prison as young men — McIntyre was just a teenager. Now, they are all 41 years old, desperately trying to restart their lives with grace and dignity.

But all three struggle, often relying the charity of strangers. For that generosity, they are grateful.

But they shouldn’t have to be.

The Kansas Legislature must right this wrong. Establishing a fair compensation scale for the wrongfully convicted should be high on the to-do list when state senators and representatives reconvene in January.

Kansas is one of 18 states that offer nothing to former inmates after they are exonerated. The state should follow the lead of Texas, which provides $80,000 per year spent incarcerated, plus the necessary help exonerees might need to become self-sufficient.

Every day that McIntyre, Jones and Bledsoe struggle underscores Kansas’ cruelty.

“This is something that we shouldn’t have to fight for,” Jones said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

If these men had completed their sentences, they would have received $100 in cash as they exited prison and would have been linked with programs that aid parolees in finding work and getting reestablished. For a time, Bledsoe worked for a reentry program that he didn’t qualify for because technically, he wasn’t a parolee.

The men can never recoup the Social Security benefits they would have been earning as free, employed men. Nor can they make up the personal savings they could have banked. Lost also is precious family time that could have been spent as fathers and husbands.

All of this was stolen by inept and possibly corrupt actions of people within the criminal justice system. Kansas can never fully repay this debt.

But it’s morally and ethically repugnant that the state refuses to even try. Legislators have faced this question before and have failed to pass legislation to allow for compensation.

Bledsoe testified for one proposal. One senator had the gall to suggest that perhaps people would try to be imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit, just so they could scam money from the state.

“Nobody in their right minds wants to go to prison,” Bledsoe said recently, recounting the preposterous theory.

The three men share a resilience, an acceptance of what happened to them. They show none of the bitterness that could harm their chances for success going forward.

Waffling politicians could learn from them. But first, lawmakers must financially compensate the wrongfully convicted and establish a system to ensure that this miscarriage of justice for exonerees is never repeated.