How Much Is a Year of Life Worth?

Let’s say you were wrongly convicted of a crime and sent to prison. Several years later you are exonerated and released. Should the government compensate you for those lost years, and if so how much?

Dallas Morning News columnist James Ragland dug up the answer to that question, and you may be surprised.

According to Ragland:

  • Ohio provides $40,330 for each year a person is incarcerated, plus lost wages and attorney fees.
  • Texas provides $25,000 a year, with a $500,000 maximum cap.
  • Alabama has a minimum of $50,000 a year.
  • While Vermont, Michigan and Hawaii will spend up to $50,000 for each year.
  • California spends $36,500 a year
  • Tennessee has a total cap of $1 million
  • And, Ragland says, “The federal government pays those exonerated of federal crimes $50,000 for each year they were incarcerated—and twice that much if they were convicted of a capital crime.”

And, of course, some states don’t necessarily provide anything.

So here’s the question: How much is a year of life worth? Of course, some people earn more than others. Should past earnings, before being incarcerated, be considered? How about education? We know that on average, high school graduates earn more than dropouts. And college graduates earn more than high school graduates.

It all seems very subjective.

But let’s throw another factor into the mix. In England, the National Health Service—the country’s government-run health care system—pays for prescription drugs. The NHS imposes a threshold of about $56,000 for a drug that will extend the patient’s life by a year.

In other words, if a prescription drug costs under $56,000—roughly the same as some states pay for an exonerated convict—and will extend a patient’s life by a year, the British government (i.e., taxpayers) will pay for it. If not, it was nice knowing you.

Incidentally, in the U.S. the standard is about $100,000 per additional year of life.

We don’t know what the right amount is to appropriately compensate those wrongly convicted of a crime. In one sense, no amount of money is enough.

But we do know that when the government regulates prices, it usually keeps the price artificially low. And there is little reason to think that when the government calculates how much a year of your life is worth, it will act any differently.

TaxBytes

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U.S. most-wanted hunt moves to UK

LONDON, England (CNN) — FBI agents hunting America’s most wanted gangster have flown to London to meet with Scotland Yard detectives as the hunt for crime boss James J. Bulger focuses on Europe.

Bulger, alleged former leader of the Winter Hill gang in Boston, has been on the run since January of 1995 after he was indicted for 18 counts of murder. Earlier this year a man meeting his description was spotted in Sicily, Italy.

London’s Metropolitan Police confirmed FBI agents had met this week with an officer from its Extradition and International Relations Unit.

The FBI Web site, which lists Bulger just beneath Osama bin Laden, says the Irish-American gangster also wanted on extortion, drug and money laundering charges linked to organized crime in the Boston, Mass. area.

He “is being sought for his role in numerous murders committed from the early 1970s through the mid-1980s in connection with his leadership of an organized crime group,” the Web site says.

Bulger, now aged 78, has a violent temper, is known to carry a knife and is considered “extremely dangerous,” the Web site warns.

The Web site also carries a video of a man suspected to be Bulger, who goes by the nickname “Whitey,” walking around with a younger woman.

Agents are currently trying to establish whether the couple filmed in Taormina, Sicily on April 10 are Bulger and his female companion Catherine Greig.

Along with Greig, Bulger is known to have traveled throughout the United States and Europe after his indictment, the FBI statement said. “Bulger planned for his life on the run by placing large sums of cash in safe deposit boxes domestically and internationally.”

Safe deposit boxes were found in Clearwater, Florida., in 2001; in Ireland and England in 2002; and in Montreal, Canada, in 2003, authorities said. “It is believed that other safe deposit boxes exist in other locations.”

A reward of up to $1 million is offered for information leading directly to Bulger’s arrest, the FBI said.

Last year, an ex-FBI agent already convicted on charges related to Bulger was indicted on additional first-degree murder charges. John Connolly is currently serving 10 years in prison in North Carolina. He was convicted in 2002 under RICO for tipping Bulger and now-convicted hit man Stephen “The Rifleman” Fleming about a racketeering indictment.

In 2005, Connolly was charged in the August 1982 murder of Boston accountant John Callahan, said to be linked to the Winter Hill gang. Law enforcement sources said Connolly, then an FBI agent, provided the information to the Winter Hill gang that Callahan was acting as an FBI informant and had to be “taken out.”

Flemmi has confessed to being the trigger man in Callahan’s murder and 10 others in Boston and Oklahoma.

In 2003, Bulger’s brother, William M. Bulger, resigned as president of the University of Massachusetts after pressure over his role in the investigation of his brother.

In testimony before a congressional committee in June 2003, William Bulger admitted speaking to his brother after he fled, but denied knowledge of his whereabouts or alleged criminal activity.

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