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  • Inmates at the state prison in San Quentin, California, United States.

    Inmates at the state prison in San Quentin, California, United States. | Photo: Reuters

Published 8 October 2016

Request by MuckRock to make public policies on making inmates pay for basic services—and transfer debt after they are released—are still awaiting response.

More states have revealed their policies on requiring inmates to pay for their own incarceration—dubbed “pay to stay”—but almost half remain unknown because they would not answer requests by MuckRock or charged exorbitant fees to release the documents.

Prison Reform in the US: Big Business as Usual?

The United States pays over US$80 billion a year to sustain the world’s largest prison population—and relegates US$50 billion of that sum to 10 million of its inmates. Some states make inmates pay for medical care, basic living supplies, drug testing, police transport, electronic monitoring, room and board and other services no longer covered by taxpayer money. The fees have ballooned in the past few years.

What’s worse, inmates that cannot pay the full amount have the debt carry over to the next time they are imprisoned:

“If an inmate has not repaid the Department for holds on inmate initiated transactions prior to being released, the inmate's account shall remain on hold indefinitely. Funds shall be collected upon inmate's return to incarceration.”

After MuckRock filed a Freedom of Information Act request to every state, only 33 answered with varying degrees of information. Four did not even acknowledge that they received the request.

Most states responded about costs for restitution more than strict “pay to stay”—Idaho reported that the bill reaches over US$10 million for inmates—but these fees “can range from costs of toothpaste to bed and board,” wrote MuckRock.

Each state’s response can be found here.

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