Bad Bills talking points

BAD BILLS SUMMARY

HB1089 - Stephens

This bill would deduct at least 25% of wages from people in prison and 50% of deposits sent to them by friends and family for the purpose of court costs or fees. These deductions would be in addition to money already authorized to be collected for existing support orders.

This puts a huge financial burden on people on the inside and their support systems on the outside. It will make it more difficult for family members to stay in touch with incarcerated loved ones, even though studies show that maintaining family connections is important for preventing people from going back to prison.

HB758 - Toepel

This bill would allow judges to give a court order at sentencing to garnish wages from people in prison (and those later re-entering society from prison) at up to 25% of earnings, as an automatic deduction after any money that goes toward support orders. The county treasurer would be allowed to use credit and debit cards provided for the payment of court costs and fines and make deductions from a bank account, subject to the agreement of the account holder.

Despite formal prohibitions against discrimination, wage garnishment creates an additional barrier for employers to hire formerly incarcerated people. It further punishes formerly incarcerated people who are likely already struggling financially on their return from prison, and makes it less likely that they will either seek or find jobs in the formal economy.

HB123 - Delozier

This bill would allow for cash bail paid by or on behalf of a person charged with a crime that would be otherwise be returned, to be diverted to pay any outstanding restitution, court costs, fines, or fees owed by that person for any criminal or delinquency case.

This bill discourages families and friends from supporting their loved ones. Appropriating bail funds rather than returning them creates a monetized incentive to make more arrests, while at the same time discouraging people to post bail for themselves or others. HB123 targets the financial support systems that family and friends can provide, flying in the face of documented evidence that family and community support is crucial to reducing recidivism.

This bill also increases costs to the county and state. Creating additional obstacles to paying bail means that people stay in jail longer, at a significant cost to the taxpayer.

The bill also violates the legal purpose of bail and in fact represents an unlawful or improper taking, which would likely meet with legal challenges.

TALKING POINTS

These bills would have a negative impact on...

Families

  • These bills will impede the opportunities for people on the inside to stay connected to their families. Studies have shown that people who maintain regular contact with their family while incarcerated are less likely to go back to prison once they are released.
  • These bills would hurt families of those who are incarcerated. Families are less able to stay in contact with loved ones if they pay $50 for a phone card and get only $25 worth of phone time. These bills are an attack not only on people in prison, but also on their families and communities. HB2386, in particular, seeks to gouge people who are already struggling to cope with the deep economic impact of having a loved one incarcerated.
  • Families already suffer deep economic impact from having a loved one incarcerated. When a loved one is incarcerated, families may lose a sizeable portion of income that was previously in place to support the family. The additional cost of paying to stay in contact, along with supporting a family member on the inside with basic necessities like hygiene products, stamps, etc., puts an enormous financial strain on families, especially when only half of their financial support actually goes directly to their loved one.
  • Children of those incarcerated suffer most. Contrary to racist myths, studies have shown that Black fathers, who are most impacted by incarceration, are also the most involved with their children when compared to White and Latino fathers in similar living situations. Though studies also show that they still find ways when physically absent to maintain that involvement, this bill creates an enormous barrier to families already suffering from poverty for children to maintain this crucial contact with an important parental figure in their lives.
  • Families should not be forced to put money into a system that is harming their loved ones.  When they deposit money onto their family member’s accounts, it is with the intention of supporting them in buying basic necessities, not to funnel funds back into an unjust system.

Reentry/Recidivism

  • These bills will increase recidivism rates by making it harder for people to find employment and support themselves once they are released. HB758, in particular, will create an additional barrier to employment and make it very difficult for people to support themselves or their families.
  • These bills increase the significant economic barriers for people re-entering society after serving time in prison. With any remaining money that would not be deducted from earnings necessarily going toward basic living necessities while inside, people leave prison not only without saved money but with continued debt to the state. In addition to having a criminal record that creates numerous barriers to employment in the formal workforce, people returning from prison who would be impacted by HB758 have even less incentive to work in the formal workforce, as 25% of their wages could continue to be redirected to the state, instead of a more liveable percentage of their choosing over a longer period of time.
  • These bills incentivize work in the informal economy (e.g. selling drugs), and increase the need for theft crimes (e.g. stealing to get food on the table) or victimless crimes (e.g. loitering for those who have no place to go). People are therefore more likely to re-enter prison with additional economic and social barriers placed upon them for cycles of debt.
  • Many individuals who are released from prison struggle to attain housing, healthcare, and employment. Incarcerated individuals need a financial base that will allow them to meet their basic needs once returning to their communities. The earnings an individual makes in prison could make the difference between whether or not they live on the streets when they are released.
  • Many individuals who reenter society in poverty often end up living on the streets. These individuals are more likely to recidivate because they are policed for quality of life crimes.

Wages

  • People incarcerated in Pennsylvania prisons can make as little as $.19/hour. The highest possible wage is $.42/hour. A prepaid, instate 15 minute phone call costs $5.15, which is over 27 hours of work to pay for 15 minutes of time catching up with a loved one.
  • Receiving such negligible wages for important labor, such as making chairs for government offices, is comparable to indentured servitude. Decreasing this amount even further increases the similarities between the current carceral model and indentured servitude and slavery.
  • Within the existing structure, people in prison are providing next to free labor.  Prison labor is used to benefit the carceral system already in a way that is completely unrecognized.
  • If people were able to earn a fair wage for the jobs they perform in prison, these bills would have less of a devastating impact.

People on the Inside

  • Most people in prison spend the little money they have on basic necessities, not luxuries. The majority of people in PA state prisons have less than $50 in their account, and need money for basic necessities, like hygiene products, and stamps, envelopes, and phone cards to stay in touch with their families.
  • If HB123 were implemented, fewer people posting bail would result in more people held in already over-crowded and costly county jails.

Reinvestment in Mass Incarceration

  • These bills further prop up a failed justice system.
  • These bills would undercut the efforts of those released from prison to reintegrate into their communities.  
  • Courts often impose costs, fines and restitution as an excessive, additional layer of economic punishment, not as compensation for the victim of a crime.
  • The majority of money people owe to the courts is for costs and fines, not for restitution. As a result, only a small percentage of the money being collected through these bills would actually go to individual victims of crime.
  • Instead of introducing a bill that would reinvest funds back into the carceral system, programming should be put into place that helps individuals affected by mass incarceration get jobs upon their release so they can pay back their fees through their participation in the workforce.
  • Mass incarceration pushes state budgets to the brink but the state continues to send people back to prison or jail for debt-related reasons. This not only propels individuals into a cycle of poverty, but also causes the state to spend more money on incarceration. The state therefore increases its debt by the disproportionate amount it spends to incarcerate people, for negligible debts that would have been more properly paid back if the state connected people to job programs to re-invest that money in the community instead.

Community

  • With regard to HB123, bail bond businesses could be discouraged from posting bail for individuals if they believe their money would be at risk of being diverted for court costs and fines.
  • Bail is already set at a rate far higher than necessary - disproportionately toward those who can afford it least - solely for the purpose of ensuring that people show up to court. Though bail has not been shown to make a difference in likelihood of showing up, judges continue to set exorbitantly high levels of bail, further overcrowding jails and removing people from their families and communities.
  • There are already mechanisms in place to compel people to pay their court costs, fines and restitution. Many people are either on parole or probation when they are released from state prison. If they owe court costs, part of their supervision can be to make a payment plan for those costs. This allows people to pay what they can afford, taking into account their income and living expenses. In addition to the mechanisms in place, the Brennan Center for Justice’s report, “Criminal Justice Debt: A Barrier to Reentry” puts forth a number of recommendations for reforming the use of court fees and the collection of criminal justice debt.
  • As points outlined above illustrate, these bills increase the chances that someone will be paying off a debt longer while in prison and once returning to society. Upon return to society, the potential garnishing of wages that should be there to support themselves and/or their families disincentivizes finding work in the formal workforce, already an incredibly difficult task for someone leaving prison with a criminal record. These bills therefore further decrease the number of people in the labor force, with already rising unemployment rates, which has an impact on individuals, families, and community economies. It also further increases the chances that informal economies like the drug trade can continue to thrive, if our society does not offer viable, liveable alternatives for economic support for its residents.

For all these reasons, we are urging lawmakers to vote NO on HB123, HB1089, HB758, and all legislation that unfairly penalizes people in prison and their family members, increases recidivism, and has untold financial, social, and moral costs to our communities and to the state.