A three star hotel in New Haven will cost you around $174 per night. A night in a Connecticut jail will cost you $229.
New Haven’s priciest hotel has rooms starting at $219 a night and offers a variety of amenities: featherbeds, glass showers with marble floors, flat-screen TVs, a fitness center, and art gallery, to name a few. Connecticut prisons do not have such equipment.
What the state can claim is the highest incarceration per day rate in the nation, a rate higher than any hotel in New Haven – a rate of $229 per day, $90,885 for each year in prison.
Yale Law School’s Liman Center research on incarceration privilege led us to people across the state affected by politics and what we learned was not surprising: This debt is insurmountable.
A man we spoke to walked out of jail with more than $1.3 million in debt. Under current incarceration lien law, that debt can follow him long after his incarceration – for 20 years after his release for certain assets, like court settlements and inheritances. For this man, and thousands like him, Connecticut’s high daily incarceration costs and accompanying state privilege create barriers to reintegration, foster intergenerational debt and harm physical health and mental health of formerly incarcerated people in one of their most vulnerable situations. moments – when they come out of prison.
Moreover, the privilege raises important constitutional concerns and does not achieve its stated purposes. Simply put, it weighs on those least able to withstand its impact and undermines the goals of our state. It’s time to repeal Connecticut’s cost of incarceration privilege.
The privilege is contrary to Connecticut’s larger goals of successful reintegration after incarceration. Burdened with debt, those released from prison are forced to use funds that could provide them with access to housing, education and employment to repay their privilege of incarceration.
We spoke with a man who said he had hoped to use his mother’s life insurance money to start a small business when he was released from prison. Before he could start his business, the state seized that money to pay for the cost of his incarceration. He had to struggle without the money his mother had hoped would serve as a safety net upon his release.
Removing critical lifelines like this makes successful rehabilitation and reintegration difficult. Research shows that these privileges can incentivize recidivism: individuals may return to crime in an effort to quickly earn money to pay off crippling debt, or they may choose illegal activities in hopes of obtaining assets. that the state cannot see or access.
Research also suggests that people burdened with unaffordable debt have worse economic, physical and emotional outcomes. The effects are not limited to those returning from prison. Connecticut’s incarceration privilege promotes intergenerational poverty, penalizing children who have already suffered economic and emotional hardship from having an incarcerated parent. These consequences of the privilege strain increase community instability among Connecticut’s most vulnerable.
Connecticut’s incarceration privilege also raises constitutional issues regarding its lack of notice and lack of due process. Connecticut trial court documents describing the consequences of a conviction never mention the privilege of committal. As a result, people are often unaware of Connecticut’s incarceration privilege until they are notified that the state will seize their assets. Those who are aware of this often rely on scarce and unreliable information obtained through informal networks. Without adequate notice of the lien, they live in constant fear that the state will collect their wages or seize their homes or property. They fear the privilege will last beyond their lifetime, creating a legacy of incarceration debt. And they make important life decisions based on those fears.
Ultimately, this privilege strayed from its original purpose. When it was passed in 1995, proponents of the privilege promised it would help teach those incarcerated financial skills and responsibility. Proponents of the lien have equated it with paying a bill due. This equation, however, ignores the economics of a modern prison. Those incarcerated in Connecticut often work full-time jobs that pay between $0.75 and $1.75 a day and pay far more for goods than in the free world.
As a result, incarcerated people are already paying for the costs of their incarceration through their underpaid labor and the inflated costs imposed on them. They learn to budget and save in this economy. Upon their release, the privilege teaches them a new lesson, though not the one originally intended: that the state will impose unjust financial burdens even after a sentence has been served. One man we spoke to echoed what others said when he wondered how the state expects him to go on with his life while being punished twice.
This privilege does not benefit our state. Collections do not go to a victim support fund and do not affect the refund. Instead, the funds raised go to the Connecticut State General Fund, where they constitute approximately 0.003% of the state budget. Although the benefit to the state is small, the funds raised represent collections from thousands of people who depend on this money to survive and support their families.
This law should be repealed. And now is the time to do it: HB 5390, a bill repealing incarceration charges, has been defeated by the Judiciary Committee. We urge Connecticut lawmakers to raise this bill in the House and Senate. The injustice of privilege has gone on long enough. The privilege of incarceration targets the most vulnerable among us. It locks families into cycles of debt and poverty. It prevents successful reintegration into society.
Connecticut has an opportunity to be a leader in criminal justice reform by ending the practice of prison debt in the 2022 session.
Mila Reed Guevara and Ryanne Bamieh are law students at Yale Law School and work with the Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law. Jenny Carroll is director of the Arthur Liman Center and visiting professor of law at Yale Law School.