By Craig Harris Gov. Doug Ducey is opening the door to allow counties to compete against private-prison companies for a lucrative multimillion-dollar contract to house state inmates. The move comes after county sheriffs — including conservatives — complained that the Republican governor and GOP-controlled Legislature weren’t giving them an opportunity to make money by putting…

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By Matt Clarke

The sheriff of Dallas County, Texas had a good reason for giving prepaid debit cards to prisoners containing the balance of their trust fund accounts when they were released from jail.

“There was too much money handling,” said Sheriff Lupe Valdez.

The cards contain the funds the prisoners had with them when they were booked into the facility, plus any money they received during their incarceration, less what they spent at the jail’s commissary. But Valdez and the Dallas County Commissioners were surprised to learn that the debit cards come with fees, and that prisoners who use the cards are charged for accessing their own money.

The issue came to light when former prisoner Steve Mathis addressed the commissioners at the end of their first regular meeting in January 2013, to complain about the fees. County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner John Wiley Price didn’t like the idea of released prisoners having to pay debit card fees.

“But let me just tell you, it’s his money,” Price said, noting that was the first he’d heard about any fees. “He said he didn’t give us no bank card [when he was jailed], he gave us cash. He should be able to get his money back. I got a real problem if they’re being charged a fee.”

Sheriff Valdez agreed, but said she didn’t know much about the issue since Mathis was the first to complain about it. However, she promised to look into whether an ATM or kiosk could be placed in the jail complex so the debit cards could be redeemed with no fees.

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By David M. Reutter

As the United States was becoming an independent nation with its own values and form of government, it discarded an archaic English system that drove the poor into greater poverty. When the U.S. ended the practice of debtors’ prisons in 1833, it ensured that people would not be jailed merely for the crime of being too poor to pay one’s debts.

More recently, the Supreme Court held two decades ago that government officials cannot revoke a defendant’s probation and send them to prison if they are unable to pay fines or restitution in criminal cases. See: Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660 (1983).

Over the years, however, the prohibition against the criminalization of poverty steadily waned. The law may not allow one’s arrest and incarceration for nonpayment of bills, but the failure to attend court hearings or pay fines or fees, or displaying “contempt of court” when a creditor files suit, has been a backdoor pathway to jail for some debtors. [See: PLN, July 2011, p.40; May 2011, p.22, 26; May 2010, p.40; April 2010, p.8].

Breast cancer survivor Lisa Lindsay of Herrin, Illinois found herself in jail over a medical bill she was informed she didn’t owe. “She got a $280 medical bill in error and was told she didn’t have to pay it,” reported the Associated Press. “But the bill was turned over to a collection agency, and eventually state troopers showed up at her home and took her to jail in handcuffs.”

Tacking legal fees onto the original debt resulted in Lindsay, a teacher’s assistant, paying more than $600 to resolve the matter. “I paid it in full so they couldn’t do it to me again,” she said.

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Studies indicate prisoners who complete educational programs while incarcerated have a significantly better chance of finding a job and staying out of prison than those who don’t. Since 1974, Ohio University’s Correctional Education has provided an opportunity for incarcerated students to study, through print-based courses, to earn college credit and/or an Ohio University degree.

Student Information  Image courtesy dispatch.com

Students can request to receive information in the mail about OHIO Correctional Education. Requests can be submitted online (using the online request form on the right), by e-mail at correctional@ohio.edu, by phone toll free at 800.444.2420, or through the mail to Ohio University Correctional Education, 102 Haning Hall, 1 Ohio University, Athens OH 45701.

After a student is admitted to the University, he or she will receive a personalized welcome packet from the student’s academic advisor. Some of the information from the student welcome packet has been included below:

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