Lawmakers review law requiring ex-convicts to pay incarceration fees – NBC Connecticut
Every year, 80 billion taxpayer dollars nationwide are spent on the cost of incarceration, according to data released by the National Institute of Corrections.
In Connecticut, some inmates are required to reimburse the cost of their stay once they reenter society. Now, efforts are underway within the state legislature to end this through Bill 5390.
Fred Hodges was incarcerated for over 17 years before reentering society in 2006. A few years later, in 2009, his progress at work and at home was halted.
“I had a car accident, and being in a car accident, harm was done to me,” Hodges said.
Hodges said he sued and settled for $21,000 in compensation. However, he walked away with less than $3,000 due to an incarceration lien.
“I lost the car, I destroyed the car and the money would have helped me get back to work in Hartford. I was working at a halfway house in Hartford at the time,” Hodges said.
In Connecticut, the incarceration privilege allows the state to seek payment from former inmates to cover the costs of their time in prison. This happens when a formerly incarcerated person receives a large sum of money: things like an inheritance or Hodge’s legal settlement.
The state can claim 50% of the sum, or the full cost of incarceration, whichever is less.
A former inmate can be charged up to 20 years after a release date, so Hodges, out of prison for more than a decade, is still subject to the privilege.
“I have been at home for 15 and a half years now. I own it,” Hodges said. “Telling me that 20 years after my conviction that I still owe the state is really bondage to me, its indebted bondage.”
Hodges shared his experience while testifying on Bill 5390 in a virtual public hearing on Friday, as state lawmakers review Connecticut’s prison debt laws.
Democratic Senator Gary Winfield co-sponsored the bill.
“The bill is really about completely undoing that system,” said Sen. Winfield (D-New Haven). “It prevents people from being able to continue with their lives. One of the most important things for us is that people are able to become stable, so they are less likely to re-offend, thus increasing public safety. »
Along with Hodges, several scholars, students, and lawmakers expressed support for the repeal of the privilege during the public hearing.
“I’m very concerned that the state is essentially profiting from the efforts of plaintiffs who happen to be formerly incarcerated,” Rep. Matt Blumenthal (D-Stamford) said.
“The State of Connecticut boasts a collection that, at its highest, is $6 million, or less than 1% of the total state budget. Six million dollars raised from the most economically marginalized people in our state,” said Jenny Carroll, director of the Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law at Yale School of Law.
Carroll said states like New Hampshire, Illinois and California that repealed their pay-to-stay laws saw little impact on their budgets.
However, Republican Senator John Kissel has raised questions about the benefits of these funds to the state.
“We just spoke with the Commissioner of Corrections, seeking funding for an ombudsman and other support services, and $6 million is $6 million. And I’m just not ready to say, ‘oh, well, we don’t need to do that,’” said Sen. Kissel (R-East Granby).
Connecticut has one of the highest paying stay rates in the country. The cost of incarcerating an inmate is $249 per day, or $90,885 per year. That’s according to a federal class action lawsuit filed this month by the American Civil Liberties Union, calling for relief from what the complaint calls “oppressive prison debt.”
The complaint says 30,000 people are affected by Connecticut’s prison laws, disproportionately black and Latinx.
Hodges said it’s something he’s seen firsthand.
“I cannot express their pain, pain and even confusion among individuals when they come to tell me about what the state has done to them,” he said. “It seems like no one cares about us on the outside who served our sentence, which we’re going to have to forever, for 20 years. It’s a whole generation or two. And to keep us chained to the sentence for 20 years later? I mean, come on, man.
The ACLU lawsuit names Governor Ned Lamont and Attorney General William Tong as defendants in the case.
The governor’s office has no comment on the lawsuit. A spokesman for the attorney general’s office said it was reviewing the case, but had no comment on the specific claims.
Elizabeth Benton, Tong’s Director of Communications, issued the following statement:
“We are reviewing the lawsuit and cannot comment on the specific claims. State laws currently require the state to recover the cost of incarceration, and these privileges generally come directly from the DAS. The Attorney General’s Office is involved in some contested cases, but has not been involved in the specific cases involving Ms. Beatty or Mr. Llorens. There is currently a proposal before the legislature to repeal the Cost of Incarceration Act.”