The families of prison inmates in Arizona may have to pay a $25 fee just to visit. Image: Flickr / derekskey / CC-BY

The Arizona legislature is putting the state prisons in the news yet again. The Arizona government would like to use prison visits as ATMs. The new $25 prison visit fee in Arizona will be going to the general fund, unless an advocacy group lawsuit moves forward.

Arizona’s $25 prison visit fee

Arizona has 15 separate prison complexes in the state. A recently-passed piece of legislation levies a $25 one-time fee to visit any prisoners in those complexes. The fee is referred to as a “background check fee.” However, the chief of staff for the Arizona Senate has confirmed that the fee will be forwarded to the Department of Corrections for “maintenance and repairs to the prisons.” As far as the Arizona Senate is concerned, the money is intended to make up for the $1.6 billion budget deficit in the state.

Lawsuit against Arizona

Middle Ground Prison Reform is a prison advocacy group in Arizona. Last month, the group filed a lawsuit against Arizona Department of Corrections to block the $25 fee. Middle Ground Prison Reform and the American Civil Liberties Union have called the fee a “specialty tax” that unfairly targets individuals who are in prison and their families. The lawsuit seeks to have the background check fee repealed or legally blocked by the courts.

The eventual result of the $25 prison visit fee

On average, the cost of visiting prison inmates hits families very hard. In one study, individuals spent an average of almost $300 per month on maintaining contact with prisoners; an amount that accounted for almost 26 percent of the income of low-income families. It has been shown that maintaining good relationships with individuals outside prison tends to reduce recidivism in the long-run, meaning that making it more difficult to visit prisoners may very well increase recidivism and make the overcrowding in Arizona prisons even more of a problem.


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