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One-Third Of Prison Systems Fine Inmates For Rules Violations

In another example of how the justice system extracts wealth from the poorest families, at least one-third of prison systems nationwide charge fines as a punishment for a rule violation, reports the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI).

Prison administrators maintain that imposing disciplinary fines, along with other punishments, helps to maintain order and reduce violence in correctional facilities. They say that the fines simulate outside-of-prison processes for dealing with misconduct, such as parking tickets.

Though rule violations and sanctions are a common feature of incarceration, disciplinary fines and fees don't help create safe environments where people can prepare for their release, PPI says.

When prisons impose these charges and then help themselves to the funds in people’s prison accounts, inmates people are often left with little to no money for purchasing essential items and services that the prison doesn’t provide. As a result, their mental and physical health suffers, creating a more volatile environment inside.

Like medical “co-pays” and exceedingly low wages in prison, disciplinary fines and fees are a means to exploit prisoners, PPI says. Whether they’re tiered fines or flat “administrative” fees, they are a burden; prison is already one big financial sanction for those who are already on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder.

In the 16 prison systems PPI found that impose fines for disciplinary violations, it would take anywhere from a full day of work to several years to pay off a single fine.

Most prison systems impose disciplinary fines between $5 and $25, but some charge hundreds or thousands of dollars. Inmates in five jurisdictions (Alabama, Arizona, Maine, Oregon, Utah, and the federal prison system) can face triple-digit fines for a single disciplinary charge,''

For example, Arizona’s fines start at $500 for the first instance of the most serious violations and go as high as $2,000. Utah state prisons impose up to $600 for a more serious “A Code” offense, and up to $300 for a “B code” offense — which can be for things like “horseplay,” or any conduct deemed “disorderly.”

Five prison systems that charge “administrative” or “processing” fees for disciplinary violations. In Georgia, for example, each guilty finding for a disciplinary violation comes with a $4 fee, unless the violation is for having a cell phone or similar communication device, a harshly-punished violation in several states; that specific act will set someone back a $100 “administrative processing fee.” P

People incarcerated in North Carolina prisons, who are charged a $10 administrative fee per disciplinary infraction, collectively lost $313,000 in fees to the state in fiscal 2022 alone.


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