The state of Arizona will be charging $25 fee to visit inmates in prison to cover the costs of a one-time background check and to help its $1.6 million budget deficit.
The new $25 visit fee has angered prison advocacy groups and family members of inmates. Some of the family members say they already shoulder the expense of traveling long distances to the remote areas where many jails are located.
Arizona has 15 state detention centers in the state. Prison reform group Middle Ground is suing the state over the law, calling it an unconstitutional “special tax on a single group.”
David C. Fathi, director of the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, called the fee “mind-boggling” and said that it could ultimately have a negative effect on public safety.
“We know that one of the best things you can do if you want people to go straight and lead a law-abiding life when they get out of prison is to continue family contact while theyâ€™re in prison,” he said. “Talk about penny-wise and pound-foolish.”
Donna Leone Hamm, executive director of Middle Ground, said she thought that state legislators created the background check fee “out of sheer financial desperation” at a time when the state faces huge budget shortfalls. “This was a scheme. In my mind, a harebrained scheme, to try to come up with the money,” she said. Most critics say the special prison tax is unconstitutional.