Prisoners Do Need Covid Stimulus Checks
By Christopher Monihan
Recently prisoners across the country began receiving stimulus payments under the Cares Act after a federal district judge ordered the IRS to stop withholding stimulus payments to prisoners. The Cares Act previously passed in March.
In October, the Wall Street Journal ran [an opinion article penned by Chandra Bozelko, titled: Prisoners Don’t Need Covid Stimulus Checks. Bozelko is the author of the blog Prison Diaries. She argued that “sending checks to prisoners is a bad idea” and that because there is a ‘black market’ in every prison for illicit contraband such money should not be provided to inmates.
I find her position offensive. It implies that inmates are incapable of discerning proper use of federal stimulus payments; that because illicit contraband such as drugs, weapons, cell phones etc. exist, this in and of itself should be grounds enough to deprive every inmate in the country of these funds. I can’t help but wonder: Would Bozelko argue the same for denying poor citizens stimulus payments because they may live in a high crime/high drug use area?
Contrary to popular belief, most inmates I know are sending portions of their stimulus money home to their families. This money is then being used to pay bills, buy food, clothing, and in many instances help to further provide for their children and loved ones.
In one breath Bozelko states that prisons “provide for inmates’ basic needs” and that because this is so, inmates have no need for government stimulus checks. In the very next she tries to play the middle ground by conceding that “A few facilities don’t feed their charges, so supplementing one’s diet with commissary food can be necessary.”
Many inmates are supported by their families financially. Most are not. Those families regularly sending money continue to do so despite high transfer fees and diminished incomes due to COVID hardships. Stimulus money that inmates keep enables them to purchase personal necessities, and to offset the financial burden of family.
Proponents argue that stimulus money can be used to assist in transitioning back to the free world. I agree. I know prisoners who are doing just that with their funds. Bozelko contends that the mere fact that we inmates have received stimulus payments “will breed resentment in communities that don’t welcome former prisoners home when we don’t get these payments.” I disagree with this notion.
Society already stereotypes inmates. Giving us a stimulus check isn’t going to adversely materially affect one’s ability to transition back to our communities. Quite the contrary. I write this blog to dispel stereotypes about inmates. Part of dispelling this is to show that we inmates are capable of being responsible. We are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers. Educating a biased public is more important than throwing yet another hurdle into the paths of inmates by denying them access to government stimulus payments.
According to Bozelko former prisoners “need an easier path to employment, occuptional licensing and housing”. I agree. These are issues affecting every prisoner. What we don’t need are additional hurdles.
*If you are a family member of someone incarcerated, please contact Chandra Bozelko and let her know how the stimulus payment has helped your incarcerated loved one.