A new U. S. Justice Department memo seeks to address criticism that the agency has shielded inmates’ money meant to go to the victims of their crimes, urging prosecutors to pursue court cases aggressively to seize those funds. A leading critic of the practice, a former U.S. Marshals official, said the new directive does nothing to help victims and focuses on the wrong part of the department, the Washington Post reports. High-profile inmates, including former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, singer R. Kelly and Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, have spent thousands of dollars with their prison accounts, while paying only small amounts of court-ordered restitution to their victims. In each of those cases, prosecutors went to court to force the Bureau of Prisons to turn over the money — a process that has been criticized as unfair to victims and counterproductive because it requires one arm of the Justice Department to go to court against another arm of the same department.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco wrote Monday to “encourage prosecutors to file restitution pleadings or to include restitution calculations in sentencing” documents. “Prosecutors should request that sentencing courts order that restitution be due and payable immediately, but if courts order otherwise, prosecutors should propose that payment plans be set at ‘the shortest time in which full payment can reasonably be made,’”her memo says. Jason Wojdylo, who spent years at the U.S. Marshals trying to get the Bureau of Prisons to change its policy on inmates’ accounts and has since retired, called Monaco’s new memo “maddening” because “it does nothing to address the problem.” For years, Wojdylo said, federal prosecutors “have been doing everything they can to collect court-imposed debt inmates owe to victims,” and without any help from the Bureau of Prisons. Wojdylo said that’s apparently because the inmates use that money to buy things from the prison commissary system, and that system pays for tens of millions of dollars in prison worker salaries every year. There are no limits on how much money inmates can keep in their prison accounts, about 20 inmates kept at least $100,000 apiece in their accounts. The agency requires inmates to pay a minimum of about $9 a month toward whatever restitution they owe.