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Are Inmate Visitation Fees Next for California?

Posted on: 09/09/2011

As California struggles with the budget, some in corrections wonder if a new move by Arizona lawmakers won’t hold some appeal here. Arizona is one of the many states struggling with mounting costs for housing inmates. Like California, overcrowding and failing services for inmates have left lawmakers desperate to find solutions to the budgetary crisis.

In order to bolster its income, Arizona became the first state to charge a fee to any adult wishing to visit an inmate. As of July 1, any adult over the age of 18 who wants to visit a prisoner not only needs to complete and submit an application to do so, but must also pay a $25 fee to do so.

The corrections website encourages applicants to use Western Union to pay the fee, which can add as much as $6 to the transaction. Families of inmates have already started protesting the new fee. One family has had to pay more than $200 in fees in order to visit a family member in prison. Others have complained of fees never being recorded so having to pay again in desperation.

The new law is expected to generate more than a quarter of a million dollars in revenue. The money generated is expected to pay for declining services in the face of rising inmate populations and overcrowding. States like California who face these grave challenges have already considered releasing non-violent offenders, outsourcing to private companies and other non-traditional measures in order to keep afloat. Levying fees may seem like an attractive, quick way to boot revenue.

Challenge to the new law has come quickly. Prisoner rights group Middle Ground Prison Reform is already kicking up a storm. Donna Hamm, director of the group, says that not only is anything that discourages family members from visiting a bad idea, it’s also illegal she claims. The group recently filed suit in Maricopa County Superior Court claiming that lawmakers acted unconstitutionally. States around the country are no doubt watching this one closely as they ponder their own uncertain correctional futures.

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