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March 15, 2011

Should a state be able to garnish a prisoner's wages to cover his incarceration costs?

The question in the title of this post is one that came before the Illinois Supreme Court today, as detailed in this local article headlined "Illinois wants to collect inmate's prison wages." Here are the specifics:

The Illinois Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a case that could determine whether inmates who have jobs in prison owe their income to the state to cover the costs of their incarceration. Inmate Kensley Hawkins, 60, has saved about $11,000 during his 21 years in prison by squirreling away the $75 a month he makes as a furniture assembler. Now, the Illinois Department of Corrections wants him to turn over that money to help pay for the cost of housing him.

Under state law, the Illinois Department of Corrections can move to recover housing and other costs from inmates who report assets of more than $10,000, said David Simonton, an attorney for Hawkins. But those assets typically come from inheritances, pensions or some other windfall -- not the wages the inmates have earned in prison, and the source of Hawkins' money is what makes his case unique, Simonton said.

If the state is allowed to take the income that inmates earn, they'll be less inclined to get jobs in prison and gain the kinds of work experience that would help them upon their release from custody, Simonton said. "I don't think that either the department (of corrections) or the state have thought out the consequences of this," he said. "Hopefully, the Supreme Court will look from a common-sense, public policy perspective and will realize that the legislature did not intend this result when they drafted the reimbursement statute."...

State law also allows IDOC to collect 3 percent of inmates' wages, and Hawkins' attorneys say the department isn't entitled to more. About $751 was taken out of Hawkins' income to cover the 3 percent. The corrections department says the cost of Hawkins' incarceration from July 1, 1983, to March 17, 2005, was $456,000.

Hawkins is serving 60 years for murder, attempted murder and burglary, among other charges. His projected parole date is 2028.

March 15, 2011 at 10:05 PM | Permalink


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I have no problem with taking this guy's money to compensate the survivors of his victims. But to pay the costs of incarceration? That's just stupid. Besides, if they want to keep his money, why give it to him in the first place? Last I heard, they can make him work for free, at least under the federal constitution. If they want him to pay for his room and board, then let him go get a real job and pay from those wages. That's absurd, of course, but it just seems like they're giving him money for the sole purpose of taking it away.

Posted by: Anonymous | Mar 15, 2011 11:00:01 PM

actualy anonymous your statement is wrong!

" Last I heard, they can make him work for free, at least under the federal constitution."

If he's willing to tell em to kiss off and mean it there isnt' much they can do short of locking him into solitary where he cant' work anyway.

sorry this one was retarded and shouldn't take a judge to see it.

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 16, 2011 12:36:00 AM

their own paperwork says they are only allowed to take 3% of in prison wages PERIOD! Is it his fault our over incarseration nation has had him locked up so damn long he's now went over the 10,000$ cap? especially with only a $75 dollar a month pay check!

Talk about your SLAVE LABOR!

Bet they sure ain't selling it at that price!

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 16, 2011 12:38:04 AM

Well, he's been in around 29 years. Assuming 8 hours/day, 5 days/week, and minimum wage (which averaged $6.50 in 2009 dollars), that's 60,320 hours or roughly $392k in earned wages. Minus the $11,000 he saved, that's roughly $381k he would have earned.
It does say he worked as a carpenter, which may have gained him a higher wage in a normal job, and there isn't any information on how much the prison sold those carpentry pieces for, but it's pretty close.

Posted by: NickS | Mar 16, 2011 8:53:53 AM

Michigan regularly takes regular assets, owned by the inmate before going to prison, to cover the costs of incarceration. It takes something from prison wages for room & board, fines, court costs, restitution, etc., I believe. It also takes pension benefits, and, I beleive, Social Security money as well. Most recently, prosecutors have tried to seize from female inmates money paid by the state to those female inmates who were the victims of sexual predation by guards, to satisfy the inmates' restitution obligations. In other words, they went to prison, got molested, got compensated, and then will have the compensation seized, so they got molested with no net compensation at all. That's worse than the Illinois situation, to my thinking.

Posted by: Greg Jones | Mar 16, 2011 11:10:29 AM

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