In recent months, some states have been pushing to take back some of the money from federal stimulus checks that have gone to prisoners, and other convicted criminals. There’s nothing in the American Rescue Plan legislation, specifically, that prevents garnishment of stimulus checks for different reasons, and some state lawmakers have pushed to take that money back from those convicted of crimes.
This spring, Alabama launched a push to do just that, with the district attorney of Mobile County declaring that “that money should automatically be seized and given to victims of crime. That money was given to individuals to stimulate the economy. They can’t stimulate the economy when they are in prison.”
Not long after, Alabama began “siphoning” stimulus funds from prisoners in order to pay restitution, court costs, and other expenditures, while all payments are held for sixty days, for “accounting” purposes.
Now, we know what has happened with another state, Michigan.
The Detroit Free Press reported this week that prisoners in Michigan have received $22.6 million in stimulus checks, while the state has clawed back $6.1 million, in order to pay restitution, court-ordered child support, and other obligations.
Back in April, the same newspaper had reported that the state government was attempting to take the checks from some prisoners.
Michigan state law allows the office of the Attorney General to go after up to ninety percent of a prisoner’s assets to pay for the “cost of care.” A spokesperson said at the time that the state attorney general was seeking to take action against about fifty prisoners. In May, per WXYZ, that figure had risen to 125, with Attorney General Dana Nessel seeking stimulus dollars from convicted murderers specifically.
“We need to remember that all people are impacted by the COVID crisis and that they are human beings too,” Raquel Castaneda Lopez of the Detroit City Council, told the station in May. “They are helping their families and contributing in other ways.”
A story in Michigan Capitol Confidential in May stated that the state of Michigan had used $11 million from inmate phone call charges to pay for other prison costs. Prisoners in that state are charged sixteen cents per minute for phone calls, under a system that allows the Department of Corrections to “record and store prisoner conversations” and to “analyze them to ensure no illegal activity is discussed.”
Bruce Timmons, a longtime legal counsel for Michigan’s House Republican caucus, believes that system is unfair, describing it as a “slush fund.”
“It is past time for this practice of excess inmate phone charges to be exposed and ended,” Timmons said in written testimony, per the Capitol Confidential site.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.