A seldom-used law in Illinois to force inmates to pay for their own incarceration is colliding with policies meant to limit recidivism and prepare prisoners for their life outside the jail cell. The Department of Corrections (DOC) is suing one of its inmates for the pittance he's made working for a program designed to give him some pocket change when he's released.
Writing in the Chicago Tribune, Ameet Sachdev tells the story of Kensley Hawkins, a prisoner since 1982, when he was sentenced to 60 years for killing a man and attempting to kill two Chicago police officers. While in prison, Hawkins took advantage of a work program aimed at teaching inmates job skills they can use outside of prison and giving them a little money to save for when they get out.
But Hawkins was too good at it, apparently. After working in the wood shop for $2 a day, Hawkins -- who is up for parole in 2028 -- saved $11,000 in a bank account. Now, DOC is after it all. Citing a law that says inmates must pay their incarceration fees, and can be held liable if they have more than $10,000 in assets, the DOC is suing Hawkins for the $455,000 and change it cost to house him since 1982. The case is now in front of the state Supreme Court.
This is an issue we've highlighted before. In October, the Brennan Center for Justice issued a report (PDF) stating that fees in Illinois -- those imposed upon defendants to pay for their prosecution, prisoners to pay for their time in jail, and ex-cons to pay for their probation -- creates a "debtors' prison." Such fees, much like the ones charged to Hawkins, only exacerbate the serious problem of prisoner recidivism in Illinois.