by Dan Gibson
The Center for Public Integrity's new series on the finance industry that's milking dollars from the families of prisoners, then the prisoners after they've been released from prison is a must read, and one that will make you wonder why our correctional facilities are punishing those left behind on the outside as well:
Pat Taylor doesn’t believe in going into debt. She keeps her bills in a freezer bag under her bed, next to old photo albums, and believes in paying them on time religiously. For Taylor, living within your means is part of being a good Christian.
Lately, Taylor, 64, has felt torn between that commitment and her desire to be a loving, supportive mother for her son Eddie....
To get cash to her son, Pat used to purchase a money order at the post office for $1.25 and mail it to the prison, for a total cost of less than $2. But in March of last year, the Virginia Department of Corrections informed her that JPay Inc., a private company in Florida, would begin handling all deposits into inmates’ accounts.
Sending a money order through JPay takes too long, so Taylor started using her debit card to get him funds instead. To send Eddie $50, Taylor must pay $6.95 to JPay. Depending on how much she can afford to send, the fee can be as high as 35 percent. In other states, JPay’s fees approach 45 percent.
After the fee, the state takes out another 15 percent of her money for court fees and a mandatory savings account, which Eddie will receive upon his release in 2021, minus the interest, which goes to the Department of Corrections.
Eddie needs money to pay for basic needs like toothpaste, visits to the doctor and winter clothes. In some states families of inmates pay for toilet paper, electricity, even room and board, as governments increasingly shift the costs of imprisonment from taxpayers to the families of inmates.
“To give him $50, I have to send $70 off my card,” says Taylor, who moved to a smaller apartment on the outskirts of Johnson City in part because of the rising cost of supporting Eddie.
“They’re punishing the families, not the inmates.”