Illinois tries to take $11K prisioner saved up working in prison

Reply Tue 15 Mar, 2011 08:35 am
Here is an interesting story from Illinois where the state is suing a prisoner to get the money he saved over thirty years working behind bars. Go to the link for the full story; here is my edited version for discussion:
He owes $455,203.14 to cover the costs of his stay at the Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet. Hawkins has been in prison since Nov. 19, 1982. ...

Hawkins is fighting in court to stop the state from seizing about $11,000 in his bank account to partially satisfy the debt. The 60-year-old earned the money by working while he's been behind bars, making about $75 a month.

The issue of whether the state can repossess the meager wages paid to inmates will be determined by the Illinois Supreme Court, which will hold arguments in the Hawkins case Tuesday. It's the first time the court will address the issue, which also has social justice and public policy ramifications for Illinois. ...

Illinois has had an inmate work program since about 1973, according to department spokeswoman Sharyn Elman. The goal is to reduce recidivism by helping prisoners learn new skills and earn some money that they can use upon release. About 44 percent of the state's 48,000 inmates participate in the program, ...

Hawkins began working soon after he entered Stateville, where he was sentenced to 60 years for the 1980 slaying of a 65-year-old man and attempting to kill two Chicago policemen. He wanted to send some money to his daughter, who was 8 when he went to prison, said Glad. Hawkins is up for parole in 2028.

Hawkins learned to build desks, chairs, dividers and cabinets in the prison's wood shop, Glad said. His wages amount to about $2 a day, not including a small commission he earned on each piece sold. ...

Under Illinois law, prisoners are liable for their incarceration costs. Most offenders do not have the means to pay, but the department can begin collection proceedings against those who have sufficient assets. Hawkins' lawyers said the threshold is $10,000 in assets. The state requires prisoners to file financial statements....

Glad and David Simonton, also of SNR Denton, argued that the Corrections Department had already deducted 3 percent of his wages, about $751, to pay for his incarceration and was not allowed to collect more. The Illinois attorney general's office, representing the Corrections Department, said the state is not limited by the wage offset from later filing a civil suit seeking more funds.

Two out of three appellate judges ruled in favor of the Corrections Department in June. The dissenter, Judge Tom Lytton, said there is a conflict in state law governing collections proceedings against prisoners. If a prisoner's only asset is wages earned behind bars, then the state is limited to the 3 percent deduction, Lytton said. ...

Hawkins is being pursued because he diligently saved his income instead of spending it on books, magazines and other trivial items at the prison commissary, said his lawyers.

"If he had spent some more of his money, he would not have been flagged," Simonton said. "This disincentivizes working and saving."

So I understand the prisoners should pay for their upkeep part of the law, but if this guy has been working for the state essentially for free for almost thirty years it seems to me the state is already getting an appropriate payback. The article doesn't say how many hours per week this guy works, but if they are spending $57/day on him and he is doing work worth $10/hour, isn't he already paying his way? I wonder if that logic is where the 3% limit on salaries earned in prison comes from.

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