The United States spends more than $180 billion annually on incarceration, locking up more people per capita than any other nation in the world. And, according to a recent Washington Post article, even in the modern age of social justice and prison reform, “predatory schemes” that force the incarcerated to pay for their own imprisonment remain common across the country.
In Connecticut, the attorney general can seize detainees’ assets at a rate of $249 per day to compensate the state for the costs of incarceration. Inheritances, tax refunds, pensions, personal injury settlements — even benefits paid to military veterans and the disabled — are subject to seizure.
Detainees often rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in crippling, life-long debt, the article said.
The “debt threat” has proven an effective deterrent to stop prisoners from suing the state for civil rights violations.
In 2018, a pregnant 19-year-old detainee at Connecticut’s York Correctional Facility repeatedly cried for help, complaining of abdominal pain, but was ignored and refused medical attention. A week later, Tianna Laboy went into labor and gave birth — in her cell toilet — to a premature baby girl.
Laboy was released 13 months later and sued the prison, its medical providers and the Connecticut prison system for civil rights violations. She was eventually forced to settle when corrections officials threatened to charge her over $500,000 to cover the costs of her incarceration, including the price of the medical care she was denied. Any money she may have won could have been seized by the Department.
Pay-to-stay schemes are just one part of many states’ “tough on crime” policy and have been in place throughout the country for decades, the article reported.
But these laws only serve to perpetuate the revolving door of incarceration, especially among people of color and the poor. In Connecticut, the state can seize citizens’ assets for up to 20 years after their release from custody, depriving them of the ability to support themselves and their families upon release.
In 2019, Illinois overturned their state’s pay-to-stay statutes as public support for this “predatory” practice has begun to wane; the article urged other states — including Connecticut — to do the same in pursuit of equity and justice.