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Friday, 22 April 2011

TDCJ inmate trust funds, medical bills, phones and families who pick up the pieces

For those who don't know, Texas has a round of law-making every 2 years called the Legislative session. It's also when the public agencies like TDCJ get their funding for the following 2 years decided. Sometimes good things come out of the Lege, like the TDCJ Inmate Phone Bill that was passed a couple of years ago which allowed Texas to join every other state in America by allowing the inmates to make calls on a pre-paid or collect call basis. The Phone Bill could have gone so much further in its provision, but just having Texas stumble into the 20th century (yes, 20th) was an achievement for all who had campaigned long years for this privilage.

This year, belts must be tightened. Texas owes a shed-load of cash (try around $27 billion according to the Texas Tribune) and every department is expected to make big savings. This could in part be because Texas does not have a state income tax. However, given the nature of Texan hostility to any kind of centralised government particularly when it comes to taxes, it would probably cost Texas more to collect the money along with the associated incarceration costs that would almost certainly be a result.

TDCJ is again in the spotlight. Lawmakers are having to work out if they can continue to lock people up in the numbers to which they have become accustomed over the past 20 years, without spending any more money on the whole incarceration, parole and probation machine. Indeed, can they continue, while at the same time making significant savings. Everything is up for discussion it seems, from closing a prison or two (now seeming to be unlikely despite the prime city centre location of Central Unit which was flagged as the most likely to go) to prison officer's subsidised housing, to raising the number of minutes inmates are permitted to use on the phones per month, and last week the latest suggestion: inmates should pay $100 per year from their trust funds to cover medical costs.

This latest suggestion has so many flaws, yet having been proposed by State Representative Jerry Madden many would assume that he had given the subject considerable thought when penning his House Bill 3386 (currently pending in committee). The Austin Statesman's reporter Mike Ward was quoted on the Grits For Breakfast blog (one of the best places to get the lowdown on Texas' incarceration antics):

"The revised bill also calls for each imprisoned convict to be charged a $100 annual fee to cover the cost of their health care instead of the current charge of $3 per visit to a prison doctor.

That change could bring in about $13.5 million over two years, according to an internal memo.

While an earlier version of the plan did not detail how the fee would be collected, the revised bill allows prison officials to take the $100 from inmates' trust fund accounts — either the full amount if it's in the account, or half of any deposits into the account until the $100 is paid.

At present, prison officials said that more than half of the state's 154,000 convicts have trust funds containing more than $100.

The revised bill will also double the number of minutes prison convicts are allowed to use prison pay phones each month, from 240 minutes to 480. Madden said that change, if approved, is expected to raise $2.9 million more per year than the nearly $6 million expected under current rules.

The rewritten bill would also allow some over-the-counter medicines — aspirin, ointments and other medications for upset stomach and pain relief — to be sold through prison commissaries for the first time.

Under current policy, prison clinics dispense the over-the-counter drugs for free to convicts."

There are a lot of ifs and buts surrounding this bill, particularly the costings/savings. The reporter, along with most in the Legislature, talks as if the inmates trust fund money just appears there delivered by fairies. Inmates in TDCJ (apart from a small handful at a private unit) do not get paid any money at all for the work they have to do unless medically excused. If the inmate refuses to work, they receive a punishment that usually invoves being placed in Ad Seg (23-hour a day cell confinement, restricted commissary priviledges and no phone use). Any money that an inmate has in their trust fund is placed there by friends and family.

While I am in no way against paying one's way, personal responsibility, or the need for everyone to pitch in when finances are short, this is in effect a tax on families of inmates. It is also, in many cases, unneccesary as not every inmate uses the medical facilities while incarcerated. 

It is often the case that when a man goes to prison (and it is by far, usually men who do go to prison) the family they leave behind loses it's main bread-winner. The wife/partner/girfriend often has to take up the slack by taking an extra job, moving to smaller/cheaper accommodation, trading down her vehicle for something cheaper to run, and in many cases taking on children full-time as well. Some move in with friends or family, or take in a lodger, because they cannot cover all their bills by themselves. They try to be careful with the phone minutes, knowing how easy it is to rack up a high bill. They also try to put a few dollars into the inmate's trust fund regularly so that letters can still be written and received, hygiene supplies bought, and perhaps college classes attended. 

Now, according to this Bill, half of what they give to the inmate could be taken by the state for something the inmate may never use.  

In a state so anti-taxation, the prospect of taxation as punnishment for the wrong-doing of someone else is firmly on the table. And if the money in the inmate's trust fund account is considered to be theirs, taxation without representation anyone?  


  1. I am a retired disabled mother. I am raising my son's child. He has mental problems and is on disability. I get $129 dollars off his disablity for the child. I am trying to raise the child with what I have. Each time I send my son any money for his inmate trust fund they take 10% out x 7 for court cost and fines. I know this is his responsiblity, but how is it mine? This is my money I am sending. He does not get any income while in TDJC. The people that voted this in and are making people pay for other's mistakes need to be voted out. I think families of Prisoner should start a potion to make sure these people are not appointed or relected. Flustrated mother.

  2. well mother you have it right the punishment for breaking the law is losing there freedom and be kept in a kennel like an animal, not to let the state steal the money that belongs to the family of the person that was sent for there use and until they use it it still belongs to the family who sent it ,has the state not heard of mis-apportion of funds? O wait I forgot when you have a police state you can do any thing you want to any one because we are all offenders by association O silly me how could I forget that
    but not to worry it will get worse ,,would some one please publish the names of the people that are trying to get this through so we can try to get them out of office and put the story on the internet thanks from SAM Belton texas

  3. Hi Sam, thanks for your comment.

    This legislation is now law in Texas, the medical tax came into being at the beginning of September 2011.

    I urge everyone to make sure you are registered to vote in the next election and vote for change in Texas. I also urge everyone to contact the Sunset Commission as they are about to begin their review of TDCJ.

    So many Texans tell me they have no idea what laws relate to inmates and TDCJ, and so many don't even know what the Sunset Commission is - please educate yourselves and your friends and families because if you don't, you or they could be next to wear whites in TDCJ.

  4. I was the flustrated mother above. I tried to get my son's fees waved while he is in prison. I send $90 three times and they took 10% 7 times which only left him with maybe $15 to $20 dollars. I can't send anymore money to be given to the courts. Yes my son should have known better, but if we had better mental health help in Texas things might be different. I took this boy to doctors since 2nd grade and tried to get help from the school with not results. He does have mental problems and I know that does not excuse him from breaking the law. I contacted the court requesting the Judge wave some of his fees and she said no. Holmes of Dallas County. I don't know where else to go for help. I am tired of trying everything. I would not want to live in my son's body. The pacing and the saying I don't want to live this way anymore. I look for one day for him to end his life just for relief. The legislators are taking money not from them, but poor families. It is like they are trying to say we are responsible for their actions. Only God knows how much I have tried to find help for my son. The legislators and goverment officals waste more money that anyone could know. They set up the laws when they are at a wall, because they have not done their jobs like they should. No one's family is perfect. If it was one of their family memebers, they would make sure they did not go or get around it. They get paid too much, maybe money should be cut from their pay and not the poor families that love their family even if they have done wrong. I wish I knew who to contact that would listen and help me!!!!!!!!

  5. Mother - I urge you to contact Ana Yáñez-Correa, Ph.D. at the Sunset Commission

    And tell her about your experiences.

  6. How about the officers bringin in cell phones and other contraband to the inmates at Smith Unit and selling them to the inmates and in turn getting paid for the phones and contraband then turning them into the investigating units and then giving the inmates new charges added onto the time they already have to do and being taken out to court even after the lost of good time, commissary and other priveledges that they may have and the officers/wardens/captains/andLts who are the culprits still have their jobs and just keep on corrupting the system more. That whole unit needs a federal investigation ASAP cuz it's not right for the inmates who has been caught up in their little trick bags and they are getting paid to do their job not to hustle the inmates and then turn around and set them up. God only knows how long this has been going on and how much money is being made by them hustling the inmates and their family.

  7. Anon - no one if forcing the inmates to buy the cell phones brought in by guards and other staff. Let's not lose sight of the face that being in prison is supposed to teach a person not to do wrong in the future.

  8. My son (an only child) has been incarcerated at the Jordan Unit in Pampa, Texas for the past year or more. He has had medical problems since being there and before he was sent there from Palastine, Texas. They take 50% of the monies in his commissary account to pay for the $100.00 a year for medical expenses. I think this is fair since he does not get paid for the job that he has there working in the kitchen. So what if he does have to go without snacks and other things? I send him only $65.00 a month for these things and that should hold him until the following month when I send him more money. It's not my fault that he is in prison. He put his own self there. Yes, I love my son, but he has a lesson to learn while he is there. He is eligible for parole in three more years and I hope and pray that he makes it so that he can start paying for the child support that he is behind on.


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