by Matt Clarke
Since 2004, the Kansas Department of Corrections (DOC) has drained over $6.7 million from the prison system’s Inmate Benefit Fund (IBF), and spent it on goods and services prohibited by state law.
The IBF is funded by prisoners and their families through commissary sales, vending machines in visitation areas, fines imposed on prisoners, telephone kickbacks and donations. According to Kansas state law, IBF funds must be used “to provide property, services, or entertainment” for prisoners, as well as “incentives for program and work participation and performance.” Internal DOC documents, however, indicated the department used $6,739,257 for goods and services unrelated to those requirements.
In 2004, the DOC spent $119,000 in IBF funds on a healthcare contract. In 2004 and 2005, it used $5,227,930 from the IBF to purchase food. Between 2004 and 2008, the DOC took $511,887 from the IBF to pay for victim notification positions; and from 2009 to 2011 it used $398,061 in IBF money for information technology personnel salaries and $246,379 for phone contracts.
An internal DOC policy limits the use of IBF funds to “merchandise, services, and construction/renovation projects that are accessible to and of direct benefit to offenders.” Work programs and recreation equipment were cited as examples of proper IBF expenditures.
“The money is utilized for offender programs, such as GED and vocational education services, substance abuse services, sex offender treatment, inmate law library and other programs beneficial to the offenders,” DOC spokesman Todd Fertig said in a June 2017 news report, citing a pending lawsuit when refusing to comment on the use of IBF funds to pay for other goods and services.
The suit was filed by Mike C. Matson, a state prisoner with a history of successfully suing the DOC over its budgetary practices. Matson accused prison officials of “fraudulently converting and misappropriating the IBF funds,” and asked the court to have the funds returned to the IBF.
“Our legislature has put many statutes in place which protect us from these predatory practices,” Matson stated. “But [the DOC] refuses to comply with or follow the law.”
Internal DOC budget documents show the department ended its misuse of IBF funds for unauthorized purposes about five years ago. Matson’s lawsuit was dismissed, and the dismissal affirmed by the state Court of Appeals on July 28, 2017. See: Matson v. State ex rel. Roberts, 399 P.3d 879 (Kan. Ct. App. 2017); 2017 Kan. App. Unpub. LEXIS 601.
Kansas prisoners are not alone in experiencing the misappropriation of funds dedicated to their welfare. In Texas, the legislature has thrice transferred the entire balance of the prison system’s education and recreation fund – which is funded by profits from goods sold in prison commissaries at a whopping 35% average markup – to the state’s general fund.
The first time that occurred, lawmakers assured prisoners it was a “one-time only” solution to a budgetary shortfall. During that and subsequent budget crises, though, the state steadfastly refused to use its own multi-billion dollar “rainy day fund,” preferring instead to raid the prison system’s fund intended to benefit prisoners.
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