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Arkansas: $21,000 Settlement in Jail Release Debit Card Class-Action Suit

by Derek Gilna

A federal class-action complaint filed against the Benton County, Arkansas Sheriff’s Office and Keefe Commissary company, over the practice of issuing fee-laden debit cards to prisoners containing their release funds, has settled for just over $21,000 plus attorney fees and incentive awards.

Arrestees processed into the jail were required to deposit any money they had on them with jail staff. Between May 2012 and August 2013, when prisoners were released, instead of receiving cash or checks they were given debit cards containing their release funds.

But when they tried to use the cards, provided to the county by Keefe Commissary, they discovered they were subject to various fees that reduced the amount of money they could access.

According to Benton County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Shannon Jenkins, “So the debit cards seemed like a really good idea, because we weren’t keeping a lot of cash on hand that belongs to the inmates here. It seemed reasonable to take that money, put that into a bank account holding that money and then issuing a debit card upon their release.” However, she noted, “Unfortunately, we found that there [were] additional fees being processed when they were using those cards.”

Jenkins also indicated the Sheriff’s Office had incurred fees from Keefe every time a release debit card was issued. “So this lawsuit isn’t just against Benton County Sheriff’s Office, Keefe Commissary is also included in it and we are meeting in the middle and splitting the fees for reimbursement,” she said.

Prisoners who were released from the jail and given debit cards received refunds for all the fees they paid. The settlement amount totaled $13,224.58, and reimbursements ranged from a penny to $184. The defendants also paid $8,000 for the cost of the claims administrator.

“We have since cut the checks and the checks have been mailed to each individual,” Sgt. Jenkins stated.

In addition to the refunds issued to class members, the settlement requires Benton County to refrain from issuing debit cards to prisoners upon their release from the jail unless they consent to any fees.

The settlement was approved by the district court, and on August 30, 2017 the court awarded $30,000 in attorney fees plus incentive awards of $500 for each of the four named plaintiffs in the case. The court noted at that time that only 448 claims totaling $4,385.79 had been filed out of an estimated 2,180 class members. Any funds not paid to the class members within two years would go to a cy pres recipient. See: Adams v. Cradduck, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Ark.), Case No. 5:13-cv-05074-PKH. 

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Related legal case

Adams v. Cradduck