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Iowa Court Effectively Bars Lifer From Spending Any Money While In Prison

Tracey Richter, serving a life sentence at the Mitchellville women's prison in Iowa, learned in April 2014 that she faces a new punishment as to her 2001 murder conviction: a garnishment order from the state that ensures that every penny she ever earns in prison will be seized by the state toward a $240,000 bill for court costs and restitution. This means that not only will Richter be prohibited from ever buying hygiene items or food items from the prison commissary, she cannot even make a telephone call, as her telephone account is specifically listed in the court order as being subject to garnishment.

State DOC Assistant Director Fred Scaletta said that prison officials could not recall such an order in the past, but that the DOC has no choice but to comply with it. DOC policy normally exempts money in a prisoner's telephone account from deductions to pay restitution and other costs, Scaletta said.

Sac County Attorney Ben Smith could care less. "The mother of the boy Richter murdered cannot call her son, so why should Richter be able to call her family for hours on end whenever she feels like it?"  Smith asked. The Iowa DOC limits phone calls to 20 minutes.

Iowa state inmates can make between 56 and 87 cents per hour for prison work assignments, and friends and families can send money to them, as well. Still, Richter is unlikely to ever earn enough to make a dent in the $240,000 bill. But County Attorney Smith says nothing in the law prevents such an order.  He said his goal is not to further punish Richter, but to get money for the victim's family.

Richter was convicted in the 2001 shooting of her neighbor that took place in Richter's home.  She is serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Richter's mother complained to the Des Moines Register that the new restriction means she might spend the rest of her life without even base amenities. "How will she get her basic needs, such as soup, shampoo and toothpaste? What will she do?  They have taken away all of her pay. Something has to be done. This has to be exposed."


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