The state Sentencing Commission approved Wednesday sending a proposal to the legislature to end the practice of requiring anyone who is, or has been incarcerated, to turn over 50% of their assets from lawsuits or inheritances to the state.
The “pay to stay” law in place since 1995 has garnered the state $18.4 million in the past three years, according to the Department of Administrative Services.
But some members of the commission agreed that the practice works against people who are already struggling to get their lives on track after being incarcerated.
“This impedes their reentry efforts and it’s creating intergenerational poverty issues,” said Quinnipiac Law Professor Sarah Russell, who sits on the commission’s Collateral Consequences subcommittee. “Parents who have been incarcerated have already had their ability to support their family impacted. Any wealth they want to pass on to their children is being cut in half.”
The recommendation will be presented to the Judiciary Committee when the legislature starts the 2022 session in February. Judiciary Committee Co-Chair Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said Wednesday he would be “amenable” to giving it a review before the committee.
“I have seen the ways that we actually make things very difficult to get back on track,” Winfield said. He added that it “doesn’t make good policy” to take money away from people who are struggling to live productive lives.
The proposal approved by the commission keeps in place provisions to pay inmates for work they do within the prisons and requires them to pay restitution to crime victims if they are ordered to do so by the court.
It would repeal sections that pertain to repayment or liens to cover the cost of incarceration. The money paid now by people who are or were incarcerated is collected by DAS and placed in the state’s General Fund. It is not earmarked for specific programs.
According to the current law, the state can seek up to 50% of the proceeds of any “significant windfall” including lottery winnings or money gained from lawsuits or inheritances for up to 20 years after someone has been incarcerated.
That includes taking money from lawsuits that have been won because a person was injured, which is not a “windfall,” Russell said. “Those funds could be used for medical care.”
The law not only impacts parents who want to leave their formerly incarcerated child an inheritance to make their life easier, but also takes 50% of any money that a formerly incarcerated person may want to leave to their heirs, she said.
As a criminal defense attorney, Frank Riccio pointed out that he sees people who are already facing difficult challenges to get their lives back on track. “It takes money away that they could certainly use,” Riccio told the commission. “There are a lot of individuals who are having trouble reintegrating. Taking away anything would be impeding that recovery.”
Several states have “pay to stay” laws, but in the Northeast, only Connecticut and Maine charge inmates or former inmates, Russell said. New Hampshire recently ended the practice, according to Russell’s research.
Several judges who are on the commission and representatives from the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the Office of the Victim Advocate abstained from voting on the proposal.
The remaining commission members voted in favor of repealing the “pay to stay” portions of the law. The change in the law would have to be approved by the Judiciary Committee, then the House and Senate before the sections on paying for the cost of incarceration would be repealed.