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WV: Money Sent By Family to Prisoners Subject to 40% Deduction, Despite Rule To the Contrary

On June 8, 2016, the West Virginia Supreme Court held that funds received by prisoners from family and friends are considered "earnings" and thus subject to the deductions mandated by W. Va. Code 25-1-3c(c)(1) (2005), even though a department of corrections policy specifically excludes those funds from mandatory deductions. The Supreme Court held that the conflict between statute and policy rendered the policy language "arbitrary and capricious" allowing it to be ignored.

The case was brought pro se by Wade Painter, a prisoner at Mount Olive Correctional Complex, as a writ of mandamus in the circuit court of Kanawha County. The writ challenged the practice by Mount Olive warden David Ballard which subjected all of a prisoner's income to the 40% deductions required by statute. Painter asserted that the department's Policy Directive 111.06, which specifically excluded funds sent by "family and friends" from deductions, should apply and asked the court to order Ballard to stop the deductions.

The circuit denied Painter's petition, holding that Painter's criminal judgment, which required restitution to be paid from "all sources" of his income, supersedes the policy. Painter appealed, and after he was appointed counsel, the West Virginia Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court, albeit on slightly different grounds.

In light of the clear language of the statute, the court held, "We see no rational basis for the exclusion of money given by family and friends from the definition of 'earnings' in Policy Directive 111.06. Further, there is no basis for distinguishing this type of gift from. all other gifts subject to deduction," the court wrote. "We can only conclude that the exclusion of funds given to an inmate from family and friends from the definition of 'earnings' is arbitrary and capricious."

The court concluded that the policy can be properly ignored by the department (even though they wrote it), and 40% deductions from all funds a prisoner receives, no matter the source, is legally permissible. See: Painter v. Ballard, No. 14-1266 (S. Ct. WV), June 8, 2016.

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Related legal case

Painter v. Ballard