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HRDC Sues Kitsap County, Washington over Debit Release Cards

by Derek Gilna

A lawsuit seeking class-action status was filed on October 20, 2017 in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, Washington, complaining of excessive and predatory fees imposed on prisoners who receive debit cards containing funds from their jail trust accounts upon their release. The suit was filed on behalf of Jeffrey Reichert, who was forced to accept a debit card when he was released from a jail in Kitsap County and discovered that he had to pay exorbitant fees to access his own money.

The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the parent organization of Prison Legal News, has taken the lead in challenging debit release card practices that exploit prisoners; such cards are provided by banks and other for-profit financial institutions. HRDC is also representing the plaintiff in a debit release card lawsuit in Oregon. [See: PLN, Oct. 2016, p.28; April 2016, p.38].

In Reichert’s case, after his arrest Kitsap County jail officials took the $176 he had in his possession and upon his release returned the funds on an AccessFreedom debit card. When he tried to obtain his money he learned it would cost him 10% of the original balance, or $17.66. Had he declined the debit card and received a check, he would have been charged $10.

According to Reichert’s complaint, “[u]nlike typical consumers, released individuals are not given the choice to accept a fee-laden financial product like the AccessFreedom Card, and they never fill out an application for this financial product.” Further, “Defendants charge a fee for their role in setting up the bank account with the bank issuing the cards and for coordinating third party processing services. These so-called ‘Coordination Fees’ are embedded in the fee structure selected by Kitsap County and the other government entities for the cards, and all fees are assessed to the card holder/inmate” (emphasis in original).

The lawsuit alleges violations of the Fifth Amendment, the Electronic Fund Transfer Act and the Washington Consumer Protection Act, as well as conversion and unjust enrichment claims against Keefe Commissary Network, LLC d/b/a Access Corrections; Rapid Investments, Inc. d/b/a Rapid Financial Solutions, d/b/a Access Freedom; and Cache Valley Bank.

Reichert’s suit seeks class-action status on behalf of all current and former prisoners held in the Kitsap County jail who “possessed a constitutionally protected interest in the monies Defendants took from them.” The complaint argues that the debit card fees are “excessive, unreasonable, unrelated to the administration of the users’ accounts, and are imposed without regard to what, if any, benefit the users” receive.

In addition to HRDC attorneys, Reichert is represented by the law firm of Keller Rohrback. See: Reichert v. Keefe Commissary Network, LLC d/b/a Access Corrections, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Wash.), Case No. 3:17-cv-05848-RBL.

PLN will report future developments in this case. 

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Related legal case

Reichert v. Keefe Commissary Network, LLC d/b/a Access Corrections