config

Biss legislation would end lawsuits against inmates for room and board

corrections The state of Illinois’ practice of suing inmates and parolees for the cost of their incarceration is a recipe for recidivism and should be halted, Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) said Wednesday.

Biss has introduced Senate Bill 2465, which would prohibit the Illinois Department of Corrections from suing inmates to recoup the cost of their room and board while in in prison.

“This really is a question of morality,” Biss said. “When we imprison people, we hope they come out rehabilitated with a decent chance of making a fresh start. Suing them for the modest resources they may have come into while serving their time all but guarantees them a life of poverty, crime or government assistance in order to survive.”

Most of the inmates targeted by the state’s lawsuits are poor. In some cases the state sued them after learning they had received modest inheritances or settlements from civil lawsuit involving private matters or regarding their arrest or incarceration.

Illinois has had a law allowing the state to sue inmates since 1982, but it was rarely used until recently. According to an investigation by the Chicago Tribune, there were two such lawsuits in 2012 and two in 2013, but the number inexplicably jumped to 11 in the first 10 months of 2015.

The state has recovered more than $512,000 since 2010, but most of it was from two inmates.

Alan Mills, executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center in Chicago, supports the proposed legislation.

"Suing people who have managed to save a few dollars while in prison is cruel and pointless. It destroys people's ability to survive upon release – their ability to rent an apartment, buy food, and find a job all takes money," he said.

"The few thousand dollars collected from former prisoners makes no dent at all in the $1.5 billion corrections budget. However, it does contribute greatly to individual recidivism, which the Department of Corrections claims to care about reducing."

Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) introduced identical legislation in the House (House Bill 6012).

“By definition, this law is predatory. Seeking to grab what little safety net someone coming out of prison might have is just hastening their return to the system,” she said. “Taxpayers already pay for our corrections system. When someone serves time in prison, we say they’re paying their debt to society. Do we want them to keep paying forever?”