October 6, 2007

Staggering debt keeps prisoners reeling

Justice Department-funded study calls for reform

As I've posted about previously, no one wants to hire ex-convicts. So what is an ex-prisoner to do when he is saddled with $25,000 in debts, and when he finally gets a job he is ordered to surrender every penny he makes?

Where does all this debt come from? Court fines. Fees. Surcharges. Child support. Restitution. Fees for mandatory drug treatment. Even the costs of the DNA testing that exonerated you!

Up to four or five departments may be coming at you all at once, forcing you to surrender 100% of your earnings. That certainly doesn't give much incentive to go through the nightmarish prospect of even looking for a job, and starting down the path of becoming a productive citizen.

Next week, the Council of State Governments' Justice Center will release a report, "Repaying Debts," which was commissioned by the Justice Department to analyze this mounting problem and recommend solutions.

In the meantime, today's New York Times features an excellent editorial calling for reform. The bottom line, says the editorial: "Bleeding ex-offenders financially is a sure recipe for landing them back in jail."