Stimulus check for prisoners: State Republican lawmakers say money should go to pay restitution

Posted at 6:33 PM, Mar 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-24 19:33:35-04

MILWAUKEE — Stimulus checks are on their way or have already arrived for more than three million in Wisconsin, including people in prison. But not everyone thinks prisoners should be allowed to keep that money.

Before a person ends up in a state corrections facility, it's not uncommon for the courts to order an inmate to pay restitution to the injured victim for things like hospital bills or loss of property.

The question now for some lawmakers: Should those stimulus dollars be required to go for restitution?

There's no way to know how many people in the state's prison population are getting stimulus checks or what they will do with the money.

But newly elected state Senator Julian Bradley says stimulus funds shouldn't be benefiting criminals.

"There is money coming in that wasn't expected for the criminals, the murderers, the rapists, etc that are locked up. So we can use that money to start paying some restitution to the people who desperately need some help," said Sen. Bradley.

The freshmen Republican is co-sponsoring a bill that says the COVID-19 recovery rebate going to people incarcerated "shall be applied first to satisfy any restitution the person has been ordered to pay."

"This is about ensuring they get the brand of justice, including restitution, which is court-ordered," said Sen Bradley. "This is no different than garnishing wages."

The third round of stimulus checks in President Biden's American Rescue Plan does not prohibit checks to anyone incarcerated. That was the same policy for the first and second rounds of checks under the Trump Administration.

At that time, the IRS tried to block those payments, but a federal court overruled them.

State Senator Lena Taylor agrees that people in prison should have to pay court-ordered restitution, but she sees the Republican effort as unrealistic.

"I do have an issue with 100% of the proceeds being used for restitution, I mean we normally are not able to garnish anyone 100%," said Sen. Taylor.

The Milwaukee Democrat says the $1,400 could benefit people in prison when they transition to life after incarceration.

"Those dollars that go into their canteens, will help them to be prepared when they get ready to leave," said Sen. Taylor. "If people don't have housing, they don't have employment, the possibilities of people reoffending are greater. That's what all the studies, what all the data shows us."

Department of Corrections says it does no track Treasury checks and "does not play an active role with persons in our care when it comes to such filings," said John Beard, Director of Communications.

The state says if a person incarcerated has money in their prison accounts, 50% of that money goes to restitution. It estimates out of about 20,000 people in the facilities, 3,800 have restitution accounts.

One final note, DOC says the first and third stimulus checks are eligible for obligations like restitution or child support.

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