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Wednesday, 22 June 2011

TDCJ inmate medical tax becomes a reality

Just when you thought Texas couldn't get any meaner, the inmate medical care tax (House Bill 26, full text of Engrossed version Bill here) has been passed into law. The main portion of the Bill comes into effect on the 91st day after the end of the 82nd Legislature, which is roughly the end of September.

The basics are:
  • Inmates will no longer be charged the current $3 per visit for seeing medical staff
  • Any inmate requiring medical attention after the end of September 2011 will have to pay a $100 fee, annually, from their trust fund account.
  • From September 2015, the $3 medical visit fee will be reinstated - it is not clear whether this is on top of the $100 fee or instead of.
  • Common over-the-counter medications will be made available for inmates to purchase via the commissary store
Now let's remember something here folks; TDCJ inmates do not get paid any money at all for the work that they have to do. Texas is about the only state in the USA that does not pay for inmate labour. The money that is deposited into each inmate's trust fund (which earns zero interest for the inmate but you can bet earns plenty for the State) comes almost exclusively from friends and family supporting the inmate financially.

These friends and family are already feeling the pinch, with trying to cover the costs of visits, phone calls, looking after children with only 1 wage coming in instead of 2 etc. Now the State of Texas has decided to levy a new TAX on inmate friends and family to cover the cost of medical care.

This is not the same as a free-world individual paying for medical insurance. The free world individual has a choice of which insurance company to sign up with, a choice of how much they are willing to pay, and usually a choice of what services they want to include in their cover. The free world individual can then work and earn money in order to cover those payments.

The inmate's family has no say in how much the TAX will be, no say on what services will be included in the cover, and no say on who provides those services. Additionally, the inmate's family are very likely to be working and paying taxes to the State which are supposed to be covering the costs of incarceration already. This means that they are being TAXED TWICE for the same thing!

The Bill states that no inmate can be denied medical care if they do not have the funds to pay for it. So the families have a Hobsons choice of either finding the money and hoping the inmate can remember to not spend it all before they might need to see a medic (not always easy when many TDCJ inmates only get a statement of account once a month, but can visit commisarry twice a month and may not be aware of any money deposited between statements), or not depositing any money at all into the inmate's trust fund and risk not having phone calls, letters or the inmate going without hygiene supplies or extra clothing such as panties for the female inmates who are only issued with 2 pairs every 4 months.

For me, I am already taxed way more on my income by my own English government than most Americans. Usually if I spend money on items in the US I can claim back the tax I pay when I leave the country. This, however, is a tax that I will not be able to claim anything back for. They may call it a "fee", but if it walks like a tax, looks like a tax and craps all over everyone like a tax, then I think it is safe to call it a TAX.

So either my husband being taxed without representation (because inmates cannot vote) if they say the momey belongs to him, or I am (because I don't get to vote in Texas either) if the money I put on his books belongs to me. Either way, there seems to be very little anyone can do about it until the next round of elections, by which time anyone not connected with TDCJ will have forgotten all about it.

And this is the kind of system that David Cameron was spewing the virtues of on the evening news last night, when he did a huge U-turn on his Justice Minister Ken Clarke and announced that incarceration was his preferred method of dealing with those who break the law. Well, it works for Texas, California, Florida, Indiana and Alabama doesn't it....


  1. Yes, each inmate will have a 100 fee the first time they go seek medical attention that is not life threatening. But they don't have to pay the 3 anymore either. every visit that year is free. And if an inmate doesn't have the 100 nobody is denied medical care. the 100 is paid for by taking half of each deposit into an inmate's account until paid for. the 3 dollars was a tax - what's the difference - don't you have a deductible on your health insurance and then don't you have to pay a copay everytime you visit a dr

  2. damn, i wish i could get medical care for a year for only 100 bucks.

  3. Anon 15.33 ~ the $3 was a token payment, only taken for the individual visit to medical. The $100 is taken for a single visit - my maths isn't that good but it would appear to be a high inflation rate at work there.

    The point is not the someone has to pay - someone always has to pay - it is the fact that the inmate does not pay, their family does. Other states pay inmates a small amount for the work they do, Texas does not. Texas makes no effort to encourage rehabilitation by teaching money management or responsibility through payment for labour.

    And no, if you had read further through the blog, you would know that I live in a country with a National Health Service where se get medical treatment free at point of need, paid for by our taxes. It's worked well for us for over 60 years.

  4. Anon @17.11 ~ not funny. You would trade your freedom for the level of medical care that inmates in TDCJ receive? You have the option to work and earn money to pay for far better medical care than you would ever get in TDCJ, or you have the option of not having medical insurance at all and seeing those doctors who offer indigent services at clinics. I hear there is at least one in Austin.


Why not take a look at the rest of this blog after you have posted your comment - lots of posts about TDCJ, knitting and other observations!