Is that the only presumption they have about prisoner's families? How condescending and patriarchal is that? Just because one person in a family is convicted of a crime, that doesn't make us all a bunch of criminals, Ryan. You need to re-think any policy you have that's rooted in that justification, because we're coming after it. This is really despicable, treating all your prisoner's families like welfare cheats.
Way to be on the ADC about this, Donna. We'll echo these concerns.
Prison Inmates' Accounts Being Blocked By State
PHOENIX -- Some Valley families that have relied on money from imprisoned relatives to make ends meet are being cut off by the state. Most inmates work jobs that pay 10 to 20 cents an hour, but some make almost $6 an hour and have thousands in the bank; however, a new state policy limits their withdrawals, hitting Valley families at a time when many say they need it most.
About 60 inmates wrote letters to CBS 5 News, asking for an investigation into how the Arizona Department of Corrections handles their money."They're holding our money hostage!" Christy Simental said. Simental was locked up for life, convicted of being an accomplice to murder 16 years ago. Her daughter, Palmy Peralta, said her grandmother, Pam, has relied on monthly checks from behind bars to make ends meet.
"She's been in there since I was a baby and my brother and sister were young," Peralta said. Peralta said there's no way they would have been able to afford rent, groceries, clothes and all the other incidentals over the years without the help.
"In the past, you know, we never had any problems and all of a sudden they dropped a bombshell and just said no more," Pam Peralta said.
Simental said the department is forcing families into a crisis situation and forcing families to turn to welfare when inmates could be supporting them financially."My kids are suffering out there and these people aren't allowing me to help them," Simental said.
CBS 5 News talked with the new director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, Chuck Ryan, about the strict new policy limits to retention accounts. Inmates said the new policy started when he took over."It is meant to be a savings account for the inmate. It is also a fund that can be accessed for emergencies only," said Ryan.
Ryan recently changed the policy so inmates can no longer send money to relatives, even if they are the legal guardian of their children. In addition to that provision, inmates can't pay for rent, medical bills or loans for their parents or any children over 18 anymore. They can't make withdrawals for school or church tithes as they had for years, and they can no longer buy any food or gifts for family members on the outside.
"I don't understand. I've paid these bills in the past. I'm just trying to be a good mother. Just because my daughter's 18, (that) doesn't mean I wash my hands of my children," Simental said.
Donna Leone-Hamm, executive director of Middle Ground Prison Reform, said the changes are beyond unreasonable."These families are in crisis. We want inmates to accept responsibility and have empathy and concern for their families, but this policy is the antithesis of that," Leone-Hamm said.
She said there's no good reason the department would suddenly crack down on inmate expenditures from their own accounts."I believe they're hanging onto the money because they need the money," said Leone-Hamm.
CBS 5 News investigated and learned that inmate retention funds, totaling almost $5 million dollars, sit in an interest-bearing account, making money for the Department of Corrections. The more money there, the less they have to pull from the department's general fund.
Ryan said that has nothing to do with it. He said he's simply enforcing policy that's been on the books for years but was being ignored. Paying rent for family members, for instance, can still be done as long as the payment is made to a rental or mortgage company, Ryan said. Medical bills, loans or utility bills can also be covered for the inmate's spouse, legal guardian of their children, or kids, as long as the check is made out to the doctor, bank or utility company. Ryan said the policy ensures inmates aren't using the money for anything illegal.
Yet, Leone-Hamm said none of the appeals she's aware of involve inmates accused of misuse of funds."There are exceptions. This is not arbitrary," insisted Ryan. He said inmates are always able to file an appeal, if they can prove a withdrawal is an emergency. Simental said the department's definition of emergency is a joke."Right now, we're in a recession. Our families need help," she said.
Simental said among her appeals is a request to let her pay rent for her son, a single father who lost his job. The department denial said, "The loss of one's job although significant, has not been deemed an emergency."
"Come on! Emergencies out here are real. We live in the real world," Peralta said.
After reviewing several cases of denied appeals by inmates trying to make withdrawals to pay for school, church tithes and disabled adult children, CBS 5 News asked Ryan what he would consider an emergency."An emergency would be the house burned down and you need to be able to access those funds," Ryan said. Leone-Hamm called the director's response the height of callousness."There's a mean-spiritedness to it when you say, 'Unless your home burns down, or something of that catastrophic-nature happens, it's not an emergency.'"
Ryan said inmates can always use money from their secondary spendable account, but inmates like Simental who work full time are limited to a $100 monthly deposit. The retention accounts have most of their money just sitting there. Simental said that's a shame, since families with children on the outside so desperately need their help. Her daughter Palmy said it isn't fair to change the rules after so many years."I would tell them to put themselves in our shoes," Peralta said.
Since the CBS 5 News interview, the director agreed it also didn't make sense to limit withdrawals on these retention accounts for inmates serving life sentences, but instead of allowing them to send more money home, he's not letting them work higher-paying jobs anymore. The department also said at least one appeal, to cover bills for a disabled adult child of an inmate, has been approved. Leone-Hamm promised to take the fight to Arizona legislators if the department doesn't lift the limits on inmate-earned income in retention accounts.