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Author Topic: State Sues Prisoners To Pay For Their Room, Board  (Read 2620 times)

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Offline Forevermah

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State Sues Prisoners To Pay For Their Room, Board
« on: November 30, 2015, 06:36:02 AM »


State Sues Prisoners To Pay For Their Room, Board


November 30, 2015
By Steve Mills and Todd Lighty
Contact Reporters Chicago Tribune



The $31,690 Johnny Melton received to settle a lawsuit over his mother's death was going to help him start life anew after prison.

But before he was released, after 15 months in prison for a drug conviction, the Illinois Department of Corrections sued Melton and won nearly $20,000 to cover the cost of his incarceration. When Melton was paroled earlier this year, he was forced to go to a homeless shelter, then was taken in by a cousin. He got food stamps. When he died in June, according to his family, he was destitute.

"He didn't have a dime," said one of Melton's sisters, Denise Melton, of Chicago. "We had to scuffle up money to cremate him."

The lawsuit against Melton was one of a small but growing number of cases the prisons department brings each year against inmates to recoup the cost of their imprisonment, an effort intended to help fund operations that makes convicted felons feel a financial pinch for their crimes — in addition to the time they do.

The lawsuits, in some cases, target convicted murderers or sex offenders serving lengthy prison terms. Some inmates will never get out; others will be released when they are elderly. But many of the lawsuits target less serious offenders who have earned or come into relatively modest sums of money, whether through an inheritance, a trust fund or, as in Melton's case, the settlement of a wrongful death lawsuit.

Either way, critics say the lawsuits make it harder for paroled prisoners to get back on their feet, defeating the department's goals of rehabilitation and cutting recidivism. Because financial stability and a job are key to not returning to prison, taking away an inmate's financial safety net increases the odds they return to crime or, at least, be dependent on taxpayers, as Melton was when he went on food stamps. Lawmakers around the country, and even President Barack Obama, have focused recently on such re-entry issues.
I said, 'I went to jail and now you want me to pay for it?' At first, I thought it was a joke. - Leonard Satas, spent 18 months in prison is being sued for $38,072

In a few cases the lawsuits seem punitive, if not retaliatory, to inmates, and could have a chilling effect on the incarcerated asserting their constitutional rights. After one inmate received $50,000 to settle a lawsuit against the department for failure to properly treat his cancer, the department turned around and sued the inmate for nearly $175,000 — even though the department already had agreed in writing not to try to claw back the settlement money.

Officials acknowledged filing the lawsuit was a mistake and said that, as a rule, they do not try to punish inmates who file lawsuits.

In the end, the money is hardly a rounding error in the Department of Corrections' $1.5 billion annual budget, and may not cover the litigation and other costs for the attorney general's office, which files the lawsuits. But for the inmates, the money can mean everything.

"If you don't have a way to support yourself, you go to the underground economy. That's criminal, and you go back to prison," said Alan Mills, executive director of the Uptown People's Law Center, which provides legal assistance to inmates. "That's horrible public policy."
Grim prospects for inmates who traveled on bus to freedom months ago
Grim prospects for inmates who traveled on bus to freedom months ago

Ann Spillane, chief of staff for Attorney General Lisa Madigan, said the office accepts referrals from the corrections department and weighs whether the case is worth pursuing. It tries to balance the needs of inmates with the amount of money the department is seeking and is willing to work with inmates to reach settlements, although parolees interviewed by the Tribune said they were unaware they could negotiate the amount owed downward.

"We don't enter the case saying we're bound and determined to take all of this person's money," Spillane said in an interview. "We try to be thoughtful when we go in the case and learn the facts … I think, in general, these suits are difficult for the people they're brought against."

Madigan said in a statement that the lawsuits raise "moral" questions and that state lawmakers should evaluate the matter.

"The Legislature should revisit whether this law is appropriate," Madigan said. "These recoveries may raise roadblocks to former inmates trying to lead successful lives out of prison. As a result, the judgments that must be made in attempting to recover incarceration costs raise moral questions that legislators need to address."

At least 43 states allow officials to seek what are often called room-and-board fees from prisoners, according to a study earlier this year from the Brennan Center for Justice, which is based at New York University law school. Some states charge inmates for medical care. Both fee structures are part of a broad effort — also called pay-to-stay — to lessen the prison system's enormous financial burden on taxpayers, according to experts.

In Illinois, the law that allows the state to sue inmates for their incarceration dates to 1982. But, at least recently, the office does not appear to have pursued it with much enthusiasm until this year, when the number of lawsuits jumped from two each in 2012 and 2013 to 11 in the first 10 months of this year.

Of 31 prisoners or parolees sued since 2010, money has been recovered from 11, with six cases pending. Fourteen cases were dismissed, with the state getting nothing. It is unclear how many cases corrections officials referred that were never filed, according to officials. The state has recovered $512,219 since 2010, although $415,590, or 81 percent of that money was obtained from just two of the inmates.

Unlike many white-collar criminals populating federal prisons, most inmates in the state's two dozen correctional facilities are poor.

"The problem with all of this is that we're supporting the justice system by charging the poorest members of our society. That's just not a cost-efficient way — and a lot of people would argue it's not a moral way — to operate a system," said the Brennan Center's Lauren-Brooke Eisen, who has studied and written about this issue. "How much is it costing to do this? There are clerks and lawyers and judges involved in all this. It doesn't seem cost-efficient."

The cases raise other questions as well. In one case, the department sued an inmate who, over nearly two decades, had built up a prison bank account to $11,000, in large part through a prison job making furniture that paid $75 a month. Although the department already took 3 percent of the inmate's pay to cover the costs of his incarceration, it also sued him for more than $450,000, prompting the inmate to challenge the claim in the Illinois Supreme Court.

The court ruled in 2011 for the inmate, saying that prison earnings were protected from such lawsuits and noting that giving inmates jobs, then taking their pay, would remove inmates' incentive to work, deprive them of skills for the outside world and likely kill key prison industries.

"Work may be its own reward for some, but probably not for most inmates in the Department of Corrections," wrote one justice.

Prison officials identify targets in a variety of ways. All inmates fill out financial disclosure forms. Others rise to the attention of prison officials through tips or through having their mail read, according to a corrections department spokeswoman. That identifies inmates who receive, say, a bank or brokerage statement in the mail. What is not clear is whether there is a financial threshold that must be reached to trigger a referral to the attorney general's office, though all of the inmates who have been sued since 2010 appeared to have at least $10,000 in assets.

Melvin Moore believes officials saw a brokerage statement he received. Nearing the end of his prison term for a 1995 murder and attempted robbery on Chicago's West Side, Moore was concerned how he would survive once he was released. Then he got good news: He had inherited 5 percent of his grandmother's estate, which was in a Merrill Lynch account and amounted to close to $14,000.

Moore, who was paroled last month, said his grandmother was initially reluctant to include him in her will because of his crimes. But he said that his sisters persuaded her that he would need money to get back on his feet when he was released from the penitentiary.

"She knew I would need something coming home," he said in an interview.

Moore, now 50, was sued earlier this year. The amount the department said it cost to house Moore over two decades: $338,650.

Moore said he went to the library at Centralia Correctional Center, where he was being held, to research the law the state cited, and also sought help from a jailhouse lawyer there. He filed handwritten motions arguing that the state should not be able to get his inheritance.

"Melvin Moore needs the $13,705.21 that the state is attempting to take away and so much more if Melvin Moore is to have a safe transition to society after serving 20 years in prison," Moore wrote to a judge in downstate Clinton County, where the case was filed.

Moore said he went to a hearing but felt overwhelmed without a lawyer. Under the law, he had no right to a free lawyer in the case.

"They got a prosecutor and a judge and me. I can't win like that," he said. "If you ain't got no lawyer, you can't win."

The judge turned aside Moore's arguments and said that the brokerage should turn over to the department $9,485, and give Moore just $4,000 of his inheritance, a sum protected under the law. Standing in the living room of his sister's South Side home, Moore said he would have to seek welfare.

"You can't do nothing with $4,000," he said.

Moore's point that, without a lawyer, he was overmatched, was accurate. The law, as written, leaves prisoners little hope for a victory. Some inmates do not even answer the lawsuits, and the state takes their money. Lawyers who have looked at the cases say the cases are losers.

"It's a very one-sided affair. The prisoners have almost no rights," said Mills, the prisoner rights lawyer.

Officials do not sue inmates or parolees more than once for the cost of their imprisonment.

In a few cases, inmates were sued after they had won money in a lawsuit, suggesting to some that they were being discouraged from suing the department. In May 2014, inmate Joecephus Mitts settled a federal civil rights lawsuit against the department that it and its medical provider had failed to adequately treat his cancer. In a rare victory for an inmate, the department agreed to better treat Mitts and pay him $50,000.

But Mitts' victory was short-lived. Six months later, officials sued Mitts to recoup the cost of his incarceration: nearly $175,000.

The prison department's lawsuit against Mitts was later dismissed; Mitts noted, and his settlement made clear, that prison officials had agreed not to pursue his settlement money. Prison officials claimed that they had overlooked that provision of Mitts' settlement. Spillane acknowledged the case had been filed in error and that officials regretted the matter. She said office policy was not to target inmates who have sued the department.

While the overwhelming majority of those behind bars are poor, that is not always the case.

Convicted child sex offender Ty Suter disclosed that he was a beneficiary of a multimillion dollar trust fund. The department in 2013 sued him and recovered nearly $320,000, according to the attorney general's office.

The department also sued James Degorski, who a jury had awarded $451,000 in a lawsuit against a Cook County Jail guard he said had beaten him. Degorski is serving a life sentence for his role in the 1993 murders of seven employees at a suburban Brown's Chicken restaurant.

Spillane said the office talked to the families of Degorski's victims, who supported a lawsuit to recoup the cost of incarcerating him.

In one case, the department settled with a man for far less than it sought. Leonard Satas, 64, of Aurora, spent about 18 months in prison for a conviction for aggravated driving under the influence. The cost of his incarceration, according to the corrections department, was $38,072.

"I said, 'I went to jail and now you want me to pay for it?'" Satas recalled. "At first, I thought it was a joke."

The attorney general's office settled with Satas for $7,500, although a financial disclosure form Satas filed with the prison system noted that he had $63,000 in a credit union account, another $4,000 in the bank and real estate worth $675,000. Satas said in an interview he owned dozens of apartments in Berwyn and Cicero, suggesting his assets were considerable and that the state could have recovered more from him.

But Satas said he told an assistant attorney general that he was a veteran, had cancer and hoped to leave his money to his wife.

Spillane, while acknowledging inmates may not know the state is willing to work with them on a settlement, said Satas did not get "a break." The office said he was disabled and did not have "significant assets."

In a letter to Satas, the assistant attorney general on the case thanked Satas for his "prompt payment" and told him he was closing his lawsuit.

"I wish you the best," wrote James McCracken. "I got your note. You are a gentleman."




http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-prison-fees-lawsuits-met-20151129-story.html
Do not value the "things" you have in your life - value "who" you have in your life....



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Offline tkesde1

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Re: State Sues Prisoners To Pay For Their Room, Board
« Reply #1 on: November 30, 2015, 09:37:39 AM »
This is wrong and this is also why I changed the beneficiary on my life insurance policy during my husband's incarceration, I will change it back once he is out. As the primary breadwinner along with the support that we also provide to our children, I could not see the state recouping my life insurance money if something terrible would have happened to me. I have my life insurance amount set to what my family would need if I were to die right now without them having to worry about financial issues. Why should the state be entitled to come in and say MINE.
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Offline Amanda.Marks

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Re: State Sues Prisoners To Pay For Their Room, Board
« Reply #2 on: November 30, 2015, 11:08:11 PM »
So these are all happening while incarcerated? or is this something that could come up after our LO are released?
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Offline sdm

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Re: State Sues Prisoners To Pay For Their Room, Board
« Reply #3 on: December 01, 2015, 06:59:17 AM »
 :wc72: For some reason I had researched this information when my l/o was sentenced.  Even if I live a long healthy life ....at my age I will not be around when he is released.  After my research I decided to speak to his siblings about the likelihood of this happening. We all live pay check to pay check in our family. I too will only have enough to take care of funeral expenses.  Currently we are not able to put much on his books. It works out to be a $1.00 a day.

We do what we can out of love so it was decided to save anything we can over the years to be used for him.....either monthly or when he gets out. It was a hard conversation to have but we worked it out as a family.

This is exactly why no monies will be in a trust or any account with his name.

We encourage him to get a job so he can support himself while in prison also.....It would be the final blow for our family....if the State sued for monies saved by him by working a prison job. There would be action taken and noise made!

I can see why this topic could bring up many opions and conversion.  The guy with a multimillion trust....if true...all i can say at this moment ...Wow.....

Offline Forevermah

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Re: State Sues Prisoners To Pay For Their Room, Board
« Reply #4 on: December 01, 2015, 08:42:46 AM »
So these are all happening while incarcerated? or is this something that could come up after our LO are released?

If an inmate comes into money or has money that the state knows of while incarcerated they can go after it for payment of room and board.

Any inmates that keep high amounts in their inmates trust accounts, the same thing can happen to them, I believe it's over $2000.00.
Do not value the "things" you have in your life - value "who" you have in your life....



“Instead of thinking about what you're missing, try thinking about what you have that everyone else is missing.”

Offline Kay

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Re: State Sues Prisoners To Pay For Their Room, Board
« Reply #5 on: December 01, 2015, 08:12:34 PM »
So these are all happening while incarcerated? or is this something that could come up after our LO are released?

If an inmate comes into money or has money that the state knows of while incarcerated they can go after it for payment of room and board.

Any inmates that keep high amounts in their inmates trust accounts, the same thing can happen to them, I believe it's over $2000.00.
Is it liquid assets specifically?  Or would they go after the home you live in if the inmate is listed as one of the owners?

Offline Falcon

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Re: State Sues Prisoners To Pay For Their Room, Board
« Reply #6 on: December 01, 2015, 08:53:03 PM »
This is wrong and this is also why I changed the beneficiary on my life insurance policy during my husband's incarceration, I will change it back once he is out. As the primary breadwinner along with the support that we also provide to our children, I could not see the state recouping my life insurance money if something terrible would have happened to me. I have my life insurance amount set to what my family would need if I were to die right now without them having to worry about financial issues. Why should the state be entitled to come in and say MINE.

Tkesde1, You just made a good point about the life insurance policy. And I'm seriously thinking about that with my own affairs. But I have a question. If you're married isnt it an automatic that your spouse is the primary beneficiary? Or is there a way to specifically request he not be the beneficiary? I wouldn't want the state taking anything that was left to my husband either. Any insight would be appreciated as I am thinking of making some changes after reading this article.
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Offline devastateddad

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Re: State Sues Prisoners To Pay For Their Room, Board
« Reply #7 on: December 02, 2015, 12:15:26 AM »
Falcon, I have not heard anything about your spouse being an automatic beneficiary in this state.  For example, I am about to enter the IDOC myself soon and have a divorce situation going as well.  I had 2 high dollar life insurance policies on me, one a whole life and the other term, that were paid up through next summer.  Since the term one does not have a cash value to surrender the policy for and is paid up for several more months, I went ahead and changed the beneficiaries on it to my parents, sister, and son instead of my soon to be ex.  IL is not a state you have to have permission from a spouse to make changes on a policy like that, so I did not need her signature to make the changes.  So yes, if you are the owner of your own life insurance policy, you should be able to name whoever you want to be the beneficiary.  You could make arrangements with these new beneficiaries as to agreements from them to help out your l/o after they are out.  Contact your insurance company for how to do it.  Mine sent me the forms I needed via email attachments.  Was all very easy.  Hope that helps.

Offline tkesde1

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Re: State Sues Prisoners To Pay For Their Room, Board
« Reply #8 on: December 02, 2015, 08:22:48 AM »
Falcon, your spouse is default beneficiary if you don't specify otherwise. My primary right now is my brother and secondary is my daughter.
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Offline Falcon

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Re: State Sues Prisoners To Pay For Their Room, Board
« Reply #9 on: December 02, 2015, 09:55:10 PM »
Thanks for the information devastateddad and  tkesde1!!! I will check with my insurance company!!!
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Offline 2407may

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Re: State Sues Prisoners To Pay For Their Room, Board
« Reply #10 on: December 04, 2015, 03:43:05 AM »
OMG I can't afford life insurance. They say if you work at prison an get paid, they will take it. And if you send money to them, they will take it all tell your loved ones out. What is a person to do if he goes to prison an can;t work? Don't receive  money because your poor? Oh boy your  going to see alot of them doing something the prisoners never thought of and that's killing them-self. I'm sorry I'm not trying to get anyone mad at me, but the poor prisoners that can't work or get money from folks cause they are just making it. And I'm one that's poor and living of my ssi and supporting 3 people.

Offline Nemdf

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Re: State Sues Prisoners To Pay For Their Room, Board
« Reply #11 on: December 04, 2015, 08:03:26 AM »
To all:  Just to clarify a point, I have worked in life insurance for almost 40 years.  Your estate is your default beneficiary, not your spouse.  Then the distribution of the estate would be subject to state laws.  If you have life insurance and don't want the proceeds to go to your estate, check with the insurance company for the forms and procedures needed to change it.  You can generally name one or several primary beneficiaries, and one or several contingent beneficiaries.  You can also use "per stirpes", so let's say, if one of your beneficiaries was your adult child and that child passes before you, use of "per stirpes" on that person's designation would automatically put that person's children (presumably your grandchildren) in for that person's share.

One issue that people may encounter is that, in many states, you are required to name your spouse as beneficiary under retirement plans such as 401(k)s, 403(b)s, (generally for medical workers and/or public education employees), or other pension plans.  You may be able to name a different beneficiary under these plans or accounts, if your spouse signs off to say he/she consents to a different designation.  Ask your employer or the issuer of the account for the forms and procedures to make these changes.  If there is no named beneficiary under these plans, the proceeds would also go to your estate.

Monies that go to your estate might be subject to claims of creditors, and will be subject to the discretion of a court-appointed or court-approved administrator of the estate.  It is probably preferable to have as little cash going to the estate as possible. 

Offline Forevermah

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Re: State Sues Prisoners To Pay For Their Room, Board
« Reply #12 on: December 04, 2015, 09:16:06 AM »
OMG I can't afford life insurance. They say if you work at prison an get paid, they will take it. And if you send money to them, they will take it all tell your loved ones out. What is a person to do if he goes to prison an can;t work? Don't receive  money because your poor? Oh boy your  going to see alot of them doing something the prisoners never thought of and that's killing them-self. I'm sorry I'm not trying to get anyone mad at me, but the poor prisoners that can't work or get money from folks cause they are just making it. And I'm one that's poor and living of my ssi and supporting 3 people.

They don't take the guys pay unless it builds up into their accounts to high amounts, let's face it, with the little they make it would take a very long time for that to happen,  most guys send the money home, or use it for their needs (commissary) while in prison.

Do not value the "things" you have in your life - value "who" you have in your life....



“Instead of thinking about what you're missing, try thinking about what you have that everyone else is missing.”