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Arizona Law Requires Ineligible Prisoners to Fund Transition Programs

The Arizona Legislature has enacted a law that requires prisoners to pay five percent of their earnings to fund re-entry transition programs. The pay deduction applies to prisoners who are ineligible to participate in such programs because of their crimes.

The law, House Bill 2298, which revised A.R.S. § 31-254, went into effect on September 19, 2007. The legislation provides that prisoners ?not? convicted of a drug offense will have five percent of their prison wages deducted ?to fund the transition offices? established by statute. The transition offices, run by a ?private or nonprofit entity,? provide prisoner transition services.

To be eligible to participate in transition programs a prisoner must be serving a sentence for a drug offense. Even then, prisoners convicted of a violent felony, an offense involving death or physical injury, or the use of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument are not eligible for transition program participation. Prisoners with felony detainers, who have not ?maintained civil behavior? or are not ?current on restitution payments? are also ineligible.

In effect, the law requires prisoners who are not eligible by law to participate in the transition programs to fund them. Meanwhile, prisoners who are eligible for the programs will not be subject to the five percent deduction from their prison wages.

The blatant injustice of this law spurred a lawsuit filed by nine prisoners. The federal civil rights complaint requests class certification, alleging state and federal claims. The prisoners argue the law violates the Due Process and Takings Clause of the United States and Arizona Constitutions; representing the prisoners is attorney Scott Ambrose of Scottsdale, Arizona.

The suit, which is in the early stages of litigation, seeks declaratory and injunctive relief as well as costs and attorney fees. See: Holka v Napolitano, USDC, D.AZ, Case No. 2:07-cv-01729-MHM. PLN will report future developments in the case.

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Related legal case

Holka v Napolitano