The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

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.


Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

Donald Trump

Image via Twitter

A year after former President Donald Trump left the White House and Joe Biden was sworn in as president of the United States, Trump continues to have considerable influence in the Republican Party. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a former Trump critic turned Trump sycophant, recently told Fox News that having a “working relationship” with Trump must be a litmus test for anyone in a GOP leadership role in Congress. But an NBC News poll, conducted in January 14-18, 2022, finds that many Republican voters identify as Republicans first and Trump supporters second.

Analyzing that poll in the New York Times on January 21, reporters Leah Askarinam and Blake Hounshell, explain, “Buried in a new survey published today is a fascinating nugget that suggests the Republican Party may not be as devoted to Trump as we’ve long assumed. Roughly every month for the last several years, pollsters for NBC News have asked: ‘Do you consider yourself to be more of a supporter of Donald Trump or more of a supporter of the Republican Party?’ Over most of that time, Republicans have replied that they saw themselves as Trump supporters first.”

Keep reading... Show less

Ivanka Trump, right

Image via @Huffington Post

As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s select committee on the January 6, 2021 insurrection moves along, it is examining Ivanka Trump’s actions that day — especially the former White House senior adviser urging her father, then- President Donald Trump, to call off his supporters when the U.S. Capitol Building was under attack. This week, Ivanka Trump’s importance to the committee is examined in a column by liberal Washington Post opinion writer Greg Sargent and an article by blogger Marcy Wheeler.

Sargent notes that the committee’s “new focus on Ivanka Trump” shows that it “is developing an unexpectedly comprehensive picture of how inextricably linked the violence was to a genuine plot to thwart a legitimately elected government from taking power.”

Keep reading... Show less
{{ }}