Remember when a released prison inmate would be given $50, a bus ticket and maybe a new pair of shoes to usher him into his new life as a free man?
Moneywise, those may have been the good old days.
Now, it’s just as likely that the ex-inmate will leave with a debit card drawn from their prison account.
And that’s when the nickel-and-diming begins.
In Michigan, the debit card for JPay, a Florida-based private corrections money management firm, charges former inmates 50 cents just to check their balance, $2 to withdraw cash and 70 cents for every purchase. Don’t want to use the card? That will cost you $2.99 after 60 days. Want to cancel? Fork over another $9.95.
Bank of America is also getting a little piece of the captive-market action: a $1.50 monthly maintenance fee, 25 cents for every purchase and $5 to shut the whole thing down.
Losing a little here, a little there can make a big difference in an unemployed and newly released inmate’s life.
And that’s why 68 groups have joined Lake Worth’s Human Rights Defense Center in asking the federal Consumer Protection Financial Bureau to include protections for prisoners as part of a proposed rules change regulating prepaid debit cards.
The center is headed by Paul Wright, who founded the widely-respected Prison Legal News from his prison cell 25 years ago.
Wright is out of prison – has been for years – and running PLN from a Lake Worth walk-up. The paper’s influence is out of proportion to the smallish digs. Academics, lawyers, reform advocates and researchers are fans of the paper’s meticulous reports on legal rulings, databases and research.
So it’s not surprising that joining the Center in its comments to the federal consumer agency are criminal justice reform groups, civil rights organizations and public interest law clinics.
For the full text of the Defense Center’s comments to the CPFB:HRDC comment
And for a critique of the prisoner/banking issue:http://www.publicintegrity.org/2014/10/02/15812/megabanks-have-prison-financial-services-market-locked