Prisoners don’t need Covid stimulation checks
The Internal Revenue Service will soon be sending checks to the jail. A federal district judge last week ordered the Internal Revenue Service not to withhold stimulus payments of $ 1,200 to 85,000 state and federal inmates. Those who have not received a check are encouraged to file a 2019 income tax return in order to collect.
Some 1.5 million state and federal prisoners are now eligible to apply. Paying $ 1,200 each would cost the government $ 1.8 billion, which does not appear to have been budgeted for in the Cares Act, which was passed in March. Include inmates and the total is $ 2.6 billion.
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Sending checks to prisoners is a bad idea. There is a black market in every correctional facility. This is not always a bad thing; offerings as innocent as a hand-drawn greeting card or ironing other people’s clothes can be part of a prisoner’s hustle and bustle. But this illicit market includes items as dangerous as guns, drugs, alcohol and cell phones. This contraband does not enter a facility without the help of the staffF; the contraband racketeering often attracts the guards, who are not well paid.
These unauthorized items can be fatal. Inmates die of overdoses. An extortion scheme involving banned cell phones resulted in the murder of a man. Another man was eviscerated with a large knife in a California prison.
In addition, prisons provide for the basic needs of prisoners. I was incarcerated during the 2008 financial crisis after being convicted the previous year of theft, identity theft and misuse of a credit card. To be honest, I felt relieved that I didn’t have to navigate a struggling economy. I knew I would be fed, clothed, and housed, albeit in a way I didn’t like.
Some establishments do not feed their loads, so it may be necessary to supplement their diet with food from the pantry. But their inmates need a change in policy or leadership, not an injection of money from Washington.
Supporters of these payments argue that recipients can use this money to relocate into society. But $ 1,200 will not last long, and the payments will breed resentment in communities that do not welcome former prisoners into their homes when we do not receive these payments. People who have served their sentence need an easier path to employment, work permits and housing. We don’t need another strike against us, and that’s what those payments will be.
Ms. Bozelko is a union columnist and author of the Prison Diaries blog.
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Published in the print edition of October 21, 2020.