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Families already struggle to visit incarcerated loved ones, but a new charge will make it harder and further isolate inmates.

Imprisonment has always generated invisible inequalities. But new legislation in Arizona now forces families and friends of inmates to bear an extra burden and will end up creating more barriers to reentry for inmates after they leave the system.

As of July 20, Arizona became the first state to pass a “background check fee” that charges adults a one-time fee of $25 to visit any of the 15 prison complexes that house state prisoners. While the legislation was instituted under the pretext that the profit would be used to support the administration of background checks, Wendy Baldo, chief of staff for the Arizona Senate, has explained that the earnings will fund prison maintenance and repairs. However, prison maintenance and repairs is the least of concerns among prisoners and visitors.

Instead, the legislation imposes unusual punishment on the prisoners’ family and friends. This fee directly penalizes the family of inmates for the simple reason that their loved ones are in prison and they want to visit them while incarcerated.

While $25 may not seem like a huge amount for many Americans, there is a vast economic disparity between the families of inmates and an average two-parent household. Although specific figures on household income of incarcerated parents are not available, a single parent home that loses one parent to the prison system is expected to experience an income drop of an average 41 percent in the first year. Although the majority of families affected by incarceration are often already low-income households, there is evidence that the men within these families are the key contributors to household income. For instance, 54 percent of the men incarcerated reported being the primary financial support in their household, with an average of 61 percent of fathers employed full time and 12 percent employed part time.

The magnitude of the destabilization of a family struggling financially before an incarceration only demonstrates the declining probability of a family being able to make ends meet in a single household. Arizona’s fee simply adds another cost for the family. It comes on top of acquiring the funds necessary to maintain contact with their loved ones such as having to take time off of work and travel to the desolate areas where prisons are often located. It should come as no surprise, then, that this fee is likely to reduce the frequency of visits and cut off inmates’ connection to their loved ones and the outside world.

While prison maintenance is important to the functions of Arizona’s Department of Correction, prisoners, and their families, the law has the potential for long-lasting negative effects on prisoners. Importantly, the new law may put a key goal of our criminal justice system in jeopardy: rehabilitating and integrating formerly incarcerated people back into society.

With this fee forcing families to shoulder greater expenses, the Arizona Department of Correction undermines their mission of “successful community reintegration.” It discourages visits from wives, husbands, children, and many loved ones that play a vital part in keeping prisoners on a straight and narrow path. While others programs, such as Florida’s Department of Correction, create strategies to decrease recidivism through visitation programs, Arizona’s Department of Correction chooses to discount the importance of visitation. The PEW Center and the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union have stated that prison visitation has a positive impact on inmates socially and psychologically, deterring them from potentially bad influences that could lead to reincarceration. Adding a price tag to an important factor in an inmate’s ability to avert reincarceration defeats the purpose of the prison system.

This fee may be the first of many to be seen among state correction departments looking to join the national trend of “prisons for profits” and decrease the state’s cost of incarceration. While the politics of prisons for profit are anything but new, such policies continue to be a strong determinant of the future of the impoverished communities victimized by the hardships related to incarceration. We need to reconsider the goals and values of our criminal justice system so they are not just about how they save money and make profits.

Barrett Marson, the spokesman for the state Department of Correction, explained that Arizona receives over 30,000 applications to visit prison inmates each year and expect to generate at least $750,000 a year with this fee. But it will undeniably challenge families’ of inmates access to visitation, reduce prisoners’ chances of adequate rehabilitation and reintegration, and instead encourage the revolving door of prison’s release and reentry in order to generate less than 1 percent of Arizona’s Department of Correction’s $1 billion budget. As a nation we need to understand the destructive implications of such policies. Is this income worth the greater price tag?

May Mgbolu is the Senior Fellow for Equal Justice at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a senior at the University of Arizona.

Cross-Posted From The Roosevelt Institute’s New Deal 2.0 Blog

The Roosevelt Institute is a non-profit organization devoted to carrying forward the legacy and values of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]