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Prisoners' rights groups say NH should pay more for mistakes

CONCORD - Criminal justice reform advocates say a year in prison after being wrongfully convicted of a crime is worth $20,000 per year incarcerated.

Several members of prisoners' rights groups testified Tuesday at a hearing held by the House Criminal Justice Committee on a proposal to increase the compensation paid to people wrongfully convicted of crimes.

"We are very concerned that there have been wrongful incarcerations," said Tom Adams, who added that sometimes it takes years go get evidence into the court system to prove that someone was wrongly incarcerated.

Currently, New Hampshire allows a person sent to prison and later released to file a claim with the state for $20,000. The Attorney General's office can contest the award in hearings before the state Board of Claims, which handles demands for money damages served on the state.

The proposal before the committee would increase the payment to $20,000 for every year the wrongly convicted person spent in prison. Neighboring states allow payments of considerably more than New Hampshire.

"Maine caps payments at $300,000, Massachusetts at $500,000," said Chris Dornin of Citizens for Criminal Justice.

Supporters said they know of only one convict released after a wrongful conviction who might be eligible for the funds and that person never applied under the existing program. That case involved a Plaistow man whose rape conviction and six-to-12-year state prison sentence were overturned because his defense attorney was not allowed to question his accuser about prior statements in which she admitted having wrongfully accused another man of rape.

The man never proved he was not guilty because the state decided not to re-try the case.

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