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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