RD500 - Reduction or Elimination of Costs and Fees Charged to Inmates in State Correctional Facilities – October 1, 2022

Executive Summary:

Senate Bill 441 and House Bill 665 directed the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) to organize a work group to make recommendations regarding the reduction or elimination of fees charged to inmates in state correctional facilities.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:

1. §1. The Department of Corrections (the Department) shall convene a work group to review and make recommendations regarding the reduction or elimination of costs and fees charged to inmates in state correctional facilities to use telephone services, purchase items or services from stores or commissaries, obtain prerelease copies o medical records, utilize electronic visitation systems, and maintain personal trust accounts, and any other costs and fees deemed relevant by the Department. The Department shall include all relevant stakeholders on the work group and shall report its findings and recommendations to the Chairmen of the House Committee on Public Safety and the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services by October 1, 2022.

Pursuant to that requirement, this report is the product of engagement and collaboration among work group members who had varying expertise and perspectives on the recommendations. The members included representatives from the Virginia General Assembly, Virginia Department of Corrections, formerly incarcerated individuals, family members of incarcerated individuals, and the following advocacy groups: Assisting Families of Inmates (AFOI), Sistas in Prison Reform, Worth Rises, Justice Forward Virginia, Americans for Prosperity, Social Action Linking Together, ACLU-VA, Nolef Turns Inc., and House of Dreams Outreach & Re-Entry. By name, workgroup membership included:

VADOC Legislative Team:

Jermiah Fitz
Rose Durbin
Annie Morgan
Tish Rothenbach
Shaina Morris

VADOC Operations & Procurement:

Melissa Welch
Chris Cole
Meagan Sok
Alita Williams-Young
Cassandra Jackson
Nicole Hicks

Legislative Members:

Delegate Patrick Hope
Senator Jennifer Boysko
Delegate Mike Cherry
Senator Barbara Favola

Other Stakeholders:

Fran Bolin
Abbey Philips
Paula James
Santia Nance
Juanita Belton
Bianca Tylek
Daniel Rosen
Andy Elders
Greg Glod
Chuck Meire
Shawn Weneta
Sheba Williams
Angela Antoine

Throughout the report, references are made to statistical analysis and outside (non-VADOC) data. It is important to note that VADOC did not have sufficient time between the provision of the information and the conclusion of the workgroup to review and confirm the information included by non-VADOC stakeholders.

The work group identified three areas of opportunity for this review – communication fees, commissary fees, and miscellaneous financial fees. Members of the work group participated in subgroup committees focused on these three key areas.

• Non-VADOC Stakeholders within the Communication subgroup identified two priorities for reducing costs and fees associated with communications in VADOC facilities. These priorities included: (1) Identifying ways to reduce or eliminate costs of communications in an effort to alleviate the financial burdens to incarcerated individuals and their families; and (2) Recommending changes to the current communications structure to strengthen public safety, in ways that also facilitate the orderly operation of VADOC facilities. These priorities resulted in the four recommendations listed below.

o No cost calls for incarcerated people and their families; 10:1 ratio of wall phones per housing unit; increase allowable call list to 20 phone numbers

o Eliminate state commissions and costs for secure messaging for incarcerated people and their families

o Eliminate video calling costs for families

o Update technology budget allocation to improve communication

• Non-VADOC Stakeholders within the Commissary subgroup identified four priorities for reducing costs and fees associated with commissary in VADOC facilities. Those priorities included: (1) Funding VADOC programs that benefit public safety and welfare using funds drawn from the entire population of the Commonwealth, not only the families of the incarcerated; (2) Reducing incarcerated persons and families' exposure to high cost and low quality items from vendors; (3) Identifying, where necessary, funding requirements for the General Assembly to continue funding important programs and services, instead of relying on commissary commissions and end-user funding for these activities; and (4) Ensuring rough parity between increasing prices for essential items sold within VADOC commissaries and increasing wages for jobs performed by incarcerated people in Virginia. These priorities resulted in the five recommendations listed below.

o Eliminate state commissions on commissary sales

o Provide high-quality, low-cost items in both commissary and quarterly package goods

o Provide basic necessities to all incarcerated people; increase allocations for indigent persons to reduce reliance on commissary for basic needs

o Provide sufficient high-quality food service to reduce reliance on commissary, increasing per person per day budget allocation

o Allow individuals to donate personal property to others upon transfer or release from custody

• Non-VADOC Stakeholders within the Finance subgroup identified four priorities for reducing costs and fees associated with (1) Trust deposits; (2) Media deposits; (3) Debit release cards; and (4) Records forwarding. These priorities resulted in the three recommendations listed below.

o Reduce deposit fees, including phone and media deposits

o Increase options for trust account disbursements upon release; reduce debit release card fees

o Provide records upon release from custody