Mass Incarceration: Prison Disciplinary Fines Further Impoverish Incarcerated People And Their Families

By Prison Policy Initiative

Photos: YouTube Screenshots

In yet another example of how the criminal legal system extracts wealth from the poorest families, at least one-third of prison systems nationwide charge fines as a punishment for a rule violation. Prison administrators claim that imposing disciplinary fines, along with other punishments, helps to maintain order and reduce violence in correctional facilities. They also argue that the fines simulate outside-of-prison processes for dealing with misconduct, such as parking tickets.

Though rule violations and their corresponding sanctions are a common feature of incarceration, disciplinary fines and fees aren’t the way to create safe environments where people can prepare for their release. On the contrary, when prisons impose these charges and subsequently help themselves to the funds in people’s prison accounts, incarcerated people are often left with little to no money for purchasing essential items and services that the prison doesn’t provide.

As a result, their mental and physical health suffers, creating a more volatile environment inside. Loved ones also pay the price of these fines — often literally, as a primary source of financial support.

Like medical “co-pays” and exceedingly low wages in prison, disciplinary fines and fees are little more than a means to exploit incarcerated people. Whether they’re tiered fines or flat “administrative” fees, they are an undue burden; prison is already one big financial sanction for those who are already on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder.

By focusing on punitive measures that deprive people further, prisons miss the mark on what actually makes prisons safer — providing opportunity rather than taking it away. We hope advocates and policymakers will understand how disciplinary fees, which exist alongside other excessive punishments, undermine the rehabilitative goals of corrections, the safety of people inside, and the odds of success during reentry.

Disciplinary fines and fees are used in about one-third of all prison systems

To determine just how common disciplinary fines and fees are, we combed through the publicly available policies on prison disciplinary procedures in each state and the federal prison system. We also looked at policies related to prison-controlled bank accounts (often called “inmate trust accounts”) and related fees, as well as practices relating to collecting debts. We found that at least 16 prison systems charge incarcerated people disciplinary fines or fees: READ MORE


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