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Illinois Finally Compensating Unjustly Imprisoned

James Kluppelberg
Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois
James Kluppelberg testified before state senators in May 2017.

Illinois is finally 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’re freed after a wrongful conviction.

“I had $14 and I believe 70-some cents on my prison account at the time,” says 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 exonorees 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' compensation for people who are “actually innocent” is based on time served — the max range is 14 or more years, which state law says is worth $220,000 dollars.

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

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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.
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