Report shows New York state inmates charged $50 million annually

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A report released by two nonprofits found that New York state county jails outside of New York City charged inmates an estimated sum of $50 million in fees a year related to phone calls, commissary products and disciplinary tickets.

New York City-based Worth Rises and the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund used data acquired from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests fulfilled by 19 counties across the state, The Wall Street Journal reports.

“What this represents is a wealth extraction from the communities and families that are least able to afford it,” Katie Schaffer, a consultant with the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund told the Journal.

From the FOIA requests, 18 counties provided data on phone costs, 12 counties provided data on commissary costs, and nine counties provided data on disciplinary ticket costs, Schaffer said.

When added, the reported figures — from 2017 — reveal $4.8 million for phone calls, $1.7 million for commissary items and $41,000 for disciplinary fines.

If all 57 counties in New York state outside of New York City were accounted for, the two groups estimate a total of almost $50 million.

In defense of the numbers, New York State Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Peter Kehoe said that the report doesn’t accurately represent the costs associated with running a jail.

“It’s not reasonable to expect that making a call in jail would cost the same as making a call at home,” he told the Journal.

Because inmates often have little to no opportunity for making money while incarcerated, their families end up paying the fees.

For example, according to the Journal, Albany resident Surraine Thomas paid $50 to $80 a week in fees so that she could talk to her son, Shaquille Owens, while he was awaiting trial in Albany County Correctional Facility from late 2018 to early 2019.

Thomas, who is unemployed because of a disability, reportedly told Schaffer that calls cost $15 an hour or $7.50 for 15 minutes.

“It’s painful when you want to talk to your loved one and you can’t because of financial needs,” she said.

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