Aided by a group advocating for prisoners’ rights, an inmate today challenged in Maricopa County Superior Court a provision of a new law that allows the Department of Corrections to deduct a fee on deposits made to prisoners’ bank accounts.
The department is set to charge a one-percent fee on deposits into what’s referred as “spendable” accounts, where inmates’ earnings go when they get a job while in prison.
Under the legislation that is set to take effect on Wednesday, the fee goes into a fund that will be used to repair and maintain facilities owned by the department — and that, argued inmate David Arner, is illegal.
Donna Hamm, executive director of Middle Ground Prison Reform, said since the money won’t be used to defray the cost of managing inmates’ bank accounts, the fee is actually a tax and constitutes a “special law,” which is prohibited by Arizona’s Constitution.
Hamm also said her group will file a separate challenge to another provision of SB1621 that authorizes the Department of Corrections to charge a one-time background fee on those who visit prisoners. That fee, which exempts minors, is set at $25.
Those fees, under the new law, will also be deposited into the same building renewal fund.
“This, too, is an illegal special tax,” Hamm said, arguing that folks who use prison buildings include not just prisoners’ visitors but also law enforcers who interview inmates, lawyers and their agents, prison staff, and nonprofit groups.
That separate lawsuit will be filed after July 20, when the background check fee goes into effect, Hamm said.