HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut auditors say the state Department of Correction hasn’t complied with a law requiring them to set up and begin collecting money from inmate savings accounts to help pay for the cost of their incarceration.
The audit, released Wednesday, said the department has failed to fully implement the prison discharge savings account program, which was intended to also provide some money for prisoners when they are released.
The law, passed in 2007 and refined in 2013, requires the state to garnish 10 percent of any money over $1,000 placed into the accounts, including money inmates earn while performing work in prison and money placed into the account by friends and family.
If an inmate had $2,000 in the account, for example, the state would be entitled to take $100.
The department says it’s waiting for lawmakers to refine the system, address accounting issues and make it fair and equitable.
“An example of an issue requiring clarity is in the case of those serving life sentences,” the department wrote in an email response to questions about the program. “The current language requires all offenders to have discharge savings accounts, even those serving life sentences — they would never be able to access their discharge accounts.”
But Republican state Sen. John Kissel, a co-chair of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, said they were never told there was a problem. The law was passed in 2007 and refined in 2013.
“To the extent we are not implementing it, we’re losing money,” he said. “The state is broke as it is and every little bit helps. So the faster we get this up and running, the better off we all will be.”
Kissel said he believes that charging inmates to offset at least part of the cost of their incarceration is fair, saying that they would pay rent to someone if they weren’t in prison.
Auditor John Geragosian said it’s not clear how much money the state has lost by not setting up the accounts and not taking the money from them.
The state Department of Administrative Services also seeks reimbursement for incarceration costs by going after money from inmates through its Collection Recovery Unit, which can file claims for assets from such sources as income tax refunds, civil court judgments, inheritances, insurance claims, even lottery winnings.
The unit recovered $5.8 million from inmates during the 2016 fiscal year and has recovered more than $5 million in each of the last three fiscal years, according to the DAS.
But Geragosian said auditors also have found the state is not recovering as much as it could through that process and will be detailing those findings in an upcoming audit report.
“They could be collecting perhaps millions more, but they may need additional staff to do that,” he said. “We think it might be cost effective to explore that.”