The law, which was part of SB 1621, authorizes the DOC to deduct a fee from each deposit made into a state prisoner's bank account (known as a "spendable" account), but requires that 100% of the deductions be placed into a newly-established Building Renewal Fund for the Department of Corrections. None of the "fee" is used at all to defray the cost of managing inmate bank accounts. Hence, under existing case law, it is a tax, not a fee, and constitutes an unconstitutional "special law."
A copy of the Complaint is attached in Pdf. format to this email AND if you have trouble with the attachment, it is also posted on the website for Middle Ground at: middlegroundprisonreform.org
Arizona prisoners do not earn interest, dividends or any monies at all on any monies on deposit in their spendable accounts (or in any other accounts), no matter how long the money is on deposit nor how much money is in the account. Instead, interest earned on these monies is diverted to the DOC's "special services fund." This fund was originally established to provide for purchases that related to the "welfare and benefit of inmates." However, in recent years, the legislatutre has permitted that fund to be used to provide incentive salary increases to prison guards, and for other uses that are wholly unrelated to the welfare and benefit of inmates.
"Now, not only does the state continue its long-term practice of declining to pay interest on prisoners' monies on deposit, but it also wants to tax prisoners' funds by charging a so-called banking deposit fee. None of the monies from the tax are used to defray the cost of actually maintaining the prisoners' spendable accounts, however. Instead, 100% of the illegal tax will be diverted to a Building Renewal Fund for exclusive use by the DOC," said Donna Leone Hamm, Director of Middle Ground Prison Reform.
"Ironically, legislators don't tax themselves, lobbyists or their employees or visitors for leaky roofs or clogged plumbing at the state capitol, but they are perfectly willing to tax prisoners -- and by default their families who make deposits to prisoner's accounts -- for such routine maintenance obligations," said Hamm.
SB 1621 also authorized the DOC to charge a background check fee for potential visitors who apply for visitation to a prisoner on or after July 20, 2011, and Middle Ground will soon be challenging that fee for the same reasons as above. The fee, set by the ADOC, is $25 for each applicant for visitation over the age of 18. It does not apply to lawyers or their agents. Per the statute, none of the monies collected by the DOC for the "fee" are used to defray the cost of processing background checks. Instead, 100% of the fee is required to be placed in the DOC Building Renewal Fund for building maintenance and renewal projects. This, too, is an illegal special tax. Visitors are not the only persons who use prison buildings. They are used by law enforcement personnel performing interviews of prisoners, lawyers and their agents, prison guards and other prison staff, victim's groups who visit the prison for reconcilation activities, volunteers, and others. All taxpayers have an obligation to pay for general maintenance and renewal of state agency infrastructure.
Executive Director - Middle Ground Prison Reform