Bill Prohibiting Collection of “Subsistence Fees” from Prisoners Passes House

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[Prison "Subsistence Fees]
Rep. Norton: “The Department of Justice itself has recognized that these fees individuals in halfway houses and on home confinement must pay are unnecessary and counterproductive."
Photo: YouTube

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton’s (D-DC) amendment to prohibit the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) from collecting so-called “subsistence fees” in fiscal year 2021 from individuals in halfway houses or on home confinement passed the House yesterday.

Her amendment was added to the fiscal year 2021 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, which passed the House last week.

“The Department of Justice itself has recognized that these fees individuals in halfway houses and on home confinement must pay are unnecessary and counterproductive,” Norton said. “For returning citizens lucky enough to find jobs, especially in the midst of a national pandemic and economic crisis, charging up to 25% of their income in unnecessary fees is not only unfair, it is counterproductive. Returning citizens could far better use this money to save for future rent, child support and fines and fees associated with their conviction, such as restitution.”

Congress imposed subsistence fees on returning citizens in halfway houses and on home confinement supposedly to promote fiscal responsibility by requiring returning citizens to pay a portion of their housing costs.

The fee is currently 25% of a returning citizen’s income.

The Department of Justice has recognized how “counterproductive” subsistence fees are, both for returning citizens and for the BOP.

In a November 2016 memo, then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates noted that BOP’s “process for collecting these subsistence fees is costly and administratively burdensome for both [halfway houses] and [BOP],” and called for DOJ to “develop a plan to limit the use of counterproductive ‘subsistence’ fees imposed on indigent residents.” BOP already waives the fees for individuals on home confinement. In light of the pandemic, BOP has also waived the fees for individuals in halfway houses.

Rep. Norton is the sponsor of a bill, the Ensuring Successful Reentry Act of 2019, that would repeal the requirement that BOP charge subsistence fees.

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