State legislators support scrapping prison-stay fees for formerly incarcerated individuals
In a press conference Thursday, state leaders and reentry advocates seek to get rid of costs for prison stays imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals.
Nat Kerman, Contributing Photographer
State officials, law school students and community advocates are calling for the repeal of Connecticut’s incarceration lien during the 2022 legislative session.
In its current state, the incarceration lien means that an offender may be required under Connecticut state law to reimburse taxpayers for their stay in a correctional facility for up to 20 years after release from incarceration. The fees can tap into inheritance money and legal settlement compensation money. In a Thursday afternoon press conference at the Family ReEntry Services in Bridgeport, State Sen. Gary Winfield and State Rep. Steve Stafstrom announced their support for a bill repealing the lien. The bill will be heard on the floor of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee — which the two co-chair — this session.
“We close the door that leads to a better life for a whole segment of people,” Fred Hodges, Family ReEntry Services director of community affairs, said at Thursday’s presser.
Twenty years after completing a prison sentence he served, Hodges said he is still affected by the lien. He said that penalizing someone who has completed their sentence is “unfair and morally wrong,” as it can perpetuate a cycle of intergenerational entrapment in poverty.
Daee Mohammad McKnight, fatherhood engagement specialist & reentry coordinator with Family ReEntry Services, was released from prison 16 years ago. Four years ago, he won some money after he was injured in a car accident. A “significant portion” of that money though, he said, was taken from him by the state’s incarceration lien.
“This is an illogical law,” he said at the press conference.
A press release from Connecticut House Democrat Press Aid Danielle Faipler stated that Connecticut’s incarceration lien charges previously incarcerated individuals for the costs of their incarceration at a rate of $224 per day, or over $80,000 per year.
According to a research report released in 2018 by Katherine Dwyer, an associate attorney in Connecticut, inmates are responsible for the costs of certain services and programs such as sick calls, dental procedures, elective and vocational educational programs, eyeglasses and lab tests to detect illegal drugs, if the results are positive.
Second-year student at Yale Law School Mila Reed-Guevara LAW ’23 has been researching this lien for over a year at the The Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law. In her research, Reed-Guevara interviewed affected individuals, pursued documents from state government agencies and read about the long-term impacts of incarceral liens.
At the press conference, she said that liens significantly harm reentry efforts. Reed-Guevara said that these liens make the already difficult transition back into society even more challenging.
The liens can be especially detrimental to reentry efforts, according to Reed-Guevara, because of the types of resources that the lien applies to. These resources — such as inheritances and legal settlements — that are designed to compensate a person for injury are the same resources that often allow people to survive financially when they’re released. Access to financial stability through pathways like inheritances and legal settlement money allows individuals to avoid reoffense, Reed-Guevara noted.
“Stripping these resources from the very people that rely on them makes our communities less safe and undermines our commitment to reentry,” she said.
Reed-Guevara also pointed out that pursuing the liens is economically inefficient for the state.
The most the state has ever been able to collect in incarceration liens, Reed-Guevara reported, amounted to six million dollars. This money represented thousands of “extremely valuable” collections from individuals, Reed-Guevara said. But that six million only represents .003 percent of the state budget, she said.
Furthermore, the Department of Corrections does not actually recover the funds from these collections, according to Reed-Guevara; the funds instead return to the general budget. She said that means that the lien has strayed from its intended purpose. In her research she couldn’t locate evidence that the collected money ultimately covers the cost of incarceration.
Winfield said repealing the incarceration lien has been a policy priority for him. He encouraged people to voice their stories on the issue as it emerges during the legislative session.
“We’ve got to make sure people understand that we have to move forward,” said Winfield.
In November, CT News Junkie reported that the Sentencing Commission approved sending a proposal to the legislature to end the practice of requiring anyone who is, or has been incarcerated, to turn over 50 percent of their assets from lawsuits or inheritances to the state.
In June 2021, Gov. Lamont signed the bill SB 972 that makes Connecticut the first U.S. state to make prison phone calls free for incarcerated people and their loved ones.