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DOJ Proposes Ways To Make Inmates Pay Victims More

The Justice Department has proposed new rules that would make it harder for federal prisoners to shield their money in government-run accounts while paying little in court-ordered restitution to their victims after stories in the Washington Post about money kept in the accounts of high-profile inmates, the Post reports. Former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, singer R. Kelly, and Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are among prisoners who have paid minimal amounts to their victims while keeping thousands of dollars in their accounts. In each case, prosecutors went to court to force the Federal Bureau of Prisons to turn over the money, a process advocates say delays justice for the victims and should not be necessary. For years, the Bureau of Prisons has required inmates to make only small payments, less than $9 a month, toward court-ordered fees and victim compensation. In Nassar’s case, that meant the former doctor, accused of sexually abusing hundreds of girls and women, was able to make personal expenditures of more than $10,000 from his prison account over a three-year period while paying his victims about $300.

Under a new rule proposed Monday, federal inmates would have to pay 75 percent of any money they receive in their prison accounts from outside sources, including relatives or friends, toward court-ordered debts. Money earned from prison jobs, which typically pay far less than minimum wage, would be treated differently under the new rule, with authorities proposing to take 25 percent or 50 percent of that money for court-ordered debts, depending on the type of pay. “In recognition of the importance of satisfying financial obligations, including restitution owed to victims of criminal conduct, inmates will also be expected to allot 75% of the deposits received into their commissary accounts from sources outside the institution,” the proposal says. It adds that “these percentage allotments may be altered on a case-by-case basis” by prison managers. Jason Wojdylo, who retired from the U.S. Marshals Service after spending years unsuccessfully pushing the Bureau of Prisons to change its policy, said the new rule would improve on a bad system. In addition to making inmates pay more of what they owe to victims, the rule also pushes for prison account funds to be applied to orders to pay for child support. Wojdylo is concerned that proposed rules lack an enforcement mechanism, though inmates can lose benefits, such as time off for good behavior or preferred housing in prison if they don’t comply. People serving life sentences or the equivalent, such as Nassar, would have little incentive to participate, Wojdylo said, adding that Congress could make the requirements stricter.


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