In the coming days, members of the Illinois House of Representative will consider a critical bill that would prohibit the state from levying unjust and exorbitant lawsuits against formerly incarcerated residents. HB 900, which passed through House committee this week, would repeal the statewide prison “pay-to-stay” law, under which the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) is permitted to charge former inmates for the costs of their incarceration and to conduct intrusive investigations of their personal financial assets.
In 2015, formerly incarcerated Illinoisans witnessed a devastating uptick in the number of lawsuits the state filed against individuals to recoup the cost of imprisonment. The state's pay-to-stay provision allows IDOC to aggressively investigate inmates' finances in order to identify potential targets of such lawsuits. This measure facilitates the systematic plunder of what small amounts of capital are held among the state's disproportionately poor inmate population.Through this unscrupulous practice, Illinois has seized all manner of minor assets from prisoners, including savings earned through low wage prison labor and the proceeds awarded in a lawsuit over negligent prison medical care.
Financial stability is essential to supporting the long term safety, opportunity and liberation of formerly incarcerated residents. By stripping individuals of their personal capital, the pay-to-stay law undermines equity and justice for returning Illinoisans, as well as their families and communities. Moreover, such practices serve to perpetuate Illinois' inhumane and racially targeted system of mass incarceration by continuing to directly offload its collateral costs onto inmates and communities of color.
This action alert marks the launch of WCRJ and CRGE’s Racial Justice Action Center, a project designed to offer our supporters critical analysis on key policy issues and accessible opportunities to promote equity and justice in our community. By inviting individuals to help spark big change through small, one-click actions, the Racial Justice Action Center serves as a low threshold entry point into the broader movement for Black Liberation. Through this project, WCRJ and CRGE will broaden and deepen its base of powerful racial justice activists and prime the pipeline of progressive Black leadership.