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Cost of Incarceration Assessment Handcuff Poor Releasees

The imposition of cost of incarceration fees upon released prisoners is a “permanent financial sentence” that overwhelms those trying to successfully integrate into society.

Fees for room and board are authorized in at least 43 states.  “We’re seeing it all over, medical co-pays, cost of incarceration claims, you name it”, said Randall C. Berg, Jr., executive director of the Florida Justice Institute.

Prisoners who are hit with such fees are often shocked when the bill comes before them.  In Florida, cost of incarceration fees have been on the books for decades.  The statute sets the costs at $250,000 for persons sentenced to life and $50 per day for all other sentences.  The cause of action to seek such claims was subject to the statute of limitations for civil claims, but in recent years Florida’s legislature eliminated any limitation on the state to seek incarceration costs.

In most cases, a Florida prisoner will not be assessed cost of incarceration.  The likelihood of such an assessment, however, increases significantly when a prisoner pursues litigation against the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC). 

Jeremy Barrett, 36, sued FDOC a month after his release from a three year sentence, claiming negligence for an assault by his cellmate upon him.  Barrett was placed in confinement with a “severely mentally ill” man after being caught stealing potatoes from the kitchen.  The cellmate attacked Barrett, gouging out one of his eyes.  “I went into shock”, Barrett said.

The FDOC responded to Barrett’s suit with a counterclaim, seeking a “cost of incarceration lien” of $54,750 for his 1,095 days in prison.  “They charges me for being in prison”, said Barrett.  “Yeah, I was surprised.”

 In the end, Barrett received a $150,000 settlement , of which FDOC got it’s incarceration lien from and the court took about $50,000 for Barrett’s fine for drug trafficking.  Barrett spent $2,200 on a prosthetic eye.

Berg called such counter claims “vindictive”.  “I think the only time they do this to these guts is when they are retaliating”.

Dee Taylor was also billed about $55,000 by FDOC after his release from a three year sentence.  “I was floored”, Taylor said.  “It’s an astronomical number.  It’s almost laughable”.

Taylor, 69, did not sue FDOC.  Instead, the incarceration cost was imposed by his sentencing judge, which is the only other was FDOC currently pursues the matter.  “I don’t have the means to fight it”, said Taylor.

Seeking costs of incarceration from indigent releases presents a burden to their ability to integrate into society successfully.  “It becomes a permanent financial sentence that these people who are poor can never fulfill”, said Alexis Harris, an expert on correctional fines and fees at The University of Washington.  “It’s not rehabilitative”.


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