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Missouri Law Makes Prisoners Pay For Their Own Incarceration

A little known Missouri law called "incarceration reimbursement" allows the state to confiscate money from prisoners to pay for the costs of their incarceration, reports the Kansas City Star. It's sometimes referred to as “pay-to-stay,” by activists against the practice. Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s office appears to be filing more incarceration reimbursement cases compared to recent years, and a review of cases shows the law seems to be applied inconsistently. According to a check of state court records, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office has filed 143 incarceration reimbursement cases since 2014. The amounts varied widely, from $1,000 to $934,785. The median amount was $13,779. Researchers also say that the practice of incarceration reimbursement is unfair because defendants do not have a right to an attorney because it's in a civil rather than criminal setting.

The number of overall cases has been increasing in recent years, according to the data The Star reviewed. In 2015, just four incarceration reimbursement cases were filed, but last year, Bailey’s office filed 21 cases. It costs more than $30,000 per year to incarcerate someone in Missouri. Karen Pojmann, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Corrections, said the department’s Offender Financial Services team provides oversight of prisoners’ accounts, but the Attorney General’s Office decides who to file cases against. Experts said the practice can negatively impact the chance’s of someone’s success returning home once they are released from prison by hindering economic stability, and thus preventing the accumulation of intergenerational wealth.


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