Visitors to Arizona prison are being charged $25 to see inmates in a move believed to be the first of its kind in the U.S., it has emerged.
Relatives and friends of prisoners arriving at the jail have to pay the one-off ‘background check fee’ on their first visit.
On the department’s website, it declares: ‘All adult visitors applying on or after July 20, 2011 must pay a one time, non-refundable, $25.00 background check fee in accordance with Department Order 911.’
Campaigners are angry at the development, complaining that friends and family already have to pay large travel costs to get to remote prisons.
Arizona State Prison Complex – Lewis which is among the jails now charging $25 for visitors to see inmates
They argue it will put off relatives from visiting, which means convicts will be even more cut off from real life and become more likely to re-offend.
David C. Fathi, director of the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, described the fee as ‘mind-boggling’.
He told the New York Times that, although the money would be useful in funding prison maintenance, it could affect public safety.
‘We know that one of the best things you can do if you want people to go straight and lead a law-abiding life when they get out of prison is to continue family contact while they’re in prison,’ he said.
‘Talk about penny-wise and pound-foolish.’
A woman whose brother is a prisoner at the Eyman complex in Florence told the New York Times the fee would be an extra burden on top of existing travel costs.
She said: ‘People will just stop visiting.’
The Arizona Department of Corrections admits it needs the extra money
Dozens of family members have already apparently complained to Middle Ground Prison Reform about the fee.
They have filed a lawsuit against the Corrections Department, arguing the charge is just a pretext for raising money and is unconstitutional because it is effectively a special tax.
The Middle Ground group has also filed a lawsuit over another part of the law, which charges 1 per cent on deposits made to a prisoner’s spending account, according to the New York Times.
Executive director Donna Leone Hamm said she thought the fee had come out of ‘sheer financial desperation’ because of budget cuts.
‘This was a scheme – in my mind, a harebrained scheme – to try to come up with the money,’ she said.
Wendy Baldo, chief of staff for the Arizona State, confirmed the charges were aimed at helping slash the $1.6billion budget shortfall.
She admitted the money would not actually fund the background checks and would go into a fun to help pay for prison maintenance and repairs.
Wendy Baldo, chief of staff for the Arizona Senate, confirmed that the fees were intended to help make up the $1.6 billion deficit the state faced at the beginning of the year.
Barrett Mason, spokesman for the Corrections Department, told the New York Times: ‘Maintenance funds for our buildings are scarce in this difficult economic time.
‘A $25 visitation fee helps to ensure our prisons remain safe environments for staff, inmates and visitors.