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Oregon Adopts 5% Prison Trust Fund Account “Service Fee”

Tasked with cutting $28 million from its massive $1.36 billion budget, Oregon prison officials had to look under every couch cushion for loose change. That means they once again turned their focus to prisoners and their loved ones, who present an easy and convenient target for generating additional revenue.

Consequently, the 2011 Oregon legislature enacted House Bill 3285, which grants the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) expanded authority to seize money from prisoners, including funds received from friends and family members.

HB 3285 amends ORS 421.125 to authorize the ODOC to “assess and collect fees from inmates from funds to be credited to, or received for deposit in, inmate trust accounts, not to exceed five percent of the amount of the credit or deposit, to offset the costs of administering inmate trust accounts.” ORS 421.125(2)(f).

The new legislation raises several important, yet unanswered, questions. For example, given that prisoner pay is “credited to ... inmate trust accounts” by the ODOC, the amendment appears to authorize a five percent pay cut for all state prisoners. This is on top of the five percent that is already deducted from prisoners’ gross pay for a “general victim fund.”

HB 3285 also applies to money “received for deposit in inmate trust accounts” from any outside sources, and makes no exemption for money that may not be seized by the state, such as veterans benefits, social security benefits and tribal per capita payments. See, e.g., Bennett v. Arkansas, 485 U.S. 395, 108 S.Ct. 1204 (1988) (Social Security) and Higgins v. Beyer, 293 F.3d 683, 692-94 (3d Cir. 2002) [PLN, July 2003, p.4] (veterans benefits).

Additionally, one can only wonder why “the costs of administering inmate trust accounts” increase with the amount of money being “credited to, or received for deposit in” those accounts. For example, the funds seized under ORS 421.125(2)(f) vary from $0.25 for a $5.00 credit/deposit to $2.50 for a $50.00 credit/deposit, or $25.00 for a $500.00 credit/deposit, and so on, even though the administrative costs associated with managing the accounts should be fixed.

HB 3285 comes at an interesting time, as ODOC officials recently introduced “Access Secure Deposits,” which allow prison trust account deposits to be made online (at – with fees “as low as $2.95” – and by telephone (800-966-8755) – with fees “as low as $3.95” – or through with fees “starting at $3.95.”

One would think that utilizing these services would eliminate “the costs of administering inmate trust accounts,” or that such costs would be covered by the deposit fees.
Unfortunately, however, it appears that prisoners’ loved ones will be hit on the front end with fees “as low as” ¬$2.95 or $3.95, then prisoners will be hit on the back end with the 5 percent deduction from their accounts authorized by HB 3285.

Similar prison trust fund assessments have survived legal challenges in other states. See, e.g., Abney v. Alameida, 334 F.Supp.2d 1221, 1228 (S.D. Cal. 2004) (“administrative fee” of 2% of funds sent to prisoners did not violate the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment because reasonable user fees that reimburse the cost of government services are not a “taking”); and Sickles v. Campbell County, Kentucky, 501 F.3d 726, 730-33 (6th Cir. 2007) [PLN, Feb. 2009, p.48] (upholding 25% deduction of all deposits to account). However, a similar 1% Arizona prison trust account fee is currently being challenged in federal court. [See: PLN, May 2012, p.38].

The 2011 Oregon legislature considered cutting $16.6 million from the ODOC’s budget for prison-based addiction treatment, cognitive, parenting and work-based education programs, essentially gutting them. When the dust settled, however, lawmakers elected not to cut too deeply into prison program funding. They even gave the ODOC $1 million to move certain prisoners into community-based programs for the final months of their sentences, yet that comes at a cost.

HB 3285 also amended ORS 421.125(2)(c) to authorize the ODOC to “assess and collect fees for self-improvement programs, services and assistance provided by the department to inmates who have sufficient moneys to pay for the programs, services and assistance.” Thus, prisoners who participate in prison- or community-based programs may be charged for such participation if they have funds in their trust accounts.

The ODOC must adopt administrative rules to implement the changes included in HB 3285. Details are in the works, but the statutory amendments are being described as more symbolic than lucrative for the state. Of course that depends on whom you ask, as prisoners who are assessed the trust fund account deductions and program fees will undoubtedly feel the loss as being far more than symbolic.

Source: Oregon HB 3285 (2011)

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