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April 24, 2006 - Detroit Free Press (MI)

Editorial: Prison Gouging

Surcharge Would Cost State, Overpenalize Inmates

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The state Senate has approved a plan to tack a 35% surcharge on all items sold to inmates in state prison stores. The proposal is impractical, dangerous and ridiculously punitive.

It would discourage prison store purchases, force the state to pay for more inmate supplies, and create a volatile division of haves and haves-not among Michigan's 50,000 convicts.

Even without the proposed surcharge, prisoner store items are not cheap, especially for inmates earning less than $1 a day working institutional jobs.

Relatives can deposit money in a prisoner's account, but most of these families are poor and already strained by the high cost of prison phone calls and travel for visits.

On top of that, the state draws money from inmate accounts to cover child support, restitution, court-ordered fines and fees, and co-pays for health care.

At prison stores, inmates can purchase, among other things, envelopes and stamps, hygiene supplies such as toothbrushes, deodorant and razors, and snacks such as crackers, nuts and candy bars.

Most inmates have little in their accounts, and the surcharge would therefore drastically decrease the amount of goods bought, especially if another plan goes through to impose the state sales tax on prisoner purchases. The net effect would be to make more inmates indigent.

When that happens, the Department of Corrections must supply necessities at no charge to the inmate. In other words, prison costs would go up.

Moreover, the surcharge, which would go toward the Michigan State Police trooper recruit school and retirement system, would create a dangerous inmate hierarchy of haves and haves-not.

It would push some inmates to go into debt and face intimidation and violence if they cannot pay up.

Legislators ought to strip this silly, dangerous and excessively punitive measure from the state Corrections budget.

Copyright © 2006 Detroit Free Press Inc.

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