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At $249 per day, prison stays leave ex-inmates deep in debt

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  • At $249 per day, prison stays leave ex-inmates deep in debt


    HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Two decades after her release from prison, Teresa Beatty feels she is still being punished.

    When her mother died two years ago, the state of Connecticut put a lien on the Stamford home she and her siblings inherited. It said she owed $83,762 to cover the cost of her 2 1/2 year imprisonment for drug crimes.

    Now, she’s afraid she’ll have to sell her home of 51 years, where she lives with two adult children, a grandchild and her disabled brother.

    “I’m about to be homeless,” said Beatty, 58, who in March became the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the state law that charges prisoners $249 a day for the cost of their incarceration. “I just don’t think it’s right, because I feel I already paid my debt to society. I just don’t think it’s fair for me to be paying twice.”

    All but two states have so-called “pay-to-stay” laws that make prisoners pay for their time behind bars, though not every state actually pursues people for the money. Supporters say the collections are a legitimate way for states to recoup millions of taxpayer dollars spent on prisons and jails.

    Critics say it’s an unfair second penalty that hinders rehabilitation by putting former inmates in debt for life. Efforts have been underway in some places to scale back or eliminate such policies.

    Two states — Illinois and New Hampshire — have repealed their laws since 2019.

    Connecticut also overhauled its statute this year, keeping it in place only for the most serious crimes, such as murder, and exempting prisoners from having to pay the first $50,000 of their incarceration costs.

    ... Connecticut used to collect prison debt by attaching an automatic lien to every inmate, claiming half of any financial windfall they might receive for up to 20 years after they are released from prison, said Dan Barrett, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut. That included things like insurance settlements, inheritances and lottery winnings.

    The state even collected money awarded to inmates in lawsuits over alleged abuse by prison guards.

    A few states have been amending or repealing “pay-to-stay” laws that require former prisoners to reimburse states for the cost of their jail stays, sometimes at daily rates exceeding what they would have paid to stay in a luxury hotel.