Prison Reimbursement in the Georgia and Federal Criminal Justice Systems

Time Magazine reported yesterday that a New York legislator, James Tedisco, introduced a bill in that state that, if passed, would require wealthy inmates to pay for the cost of their prison stays. A similar bill failed to pass in Georgia this year and the federal criminal justice system already takes the costs of incarceration into account when determining fines at sentencing. Many states, including Florida and Alabama, have passed laws addressing inmate reimbursement of the costs of confinement.

The New York bill, nicknamed the “Madoff bill,” proposes a sliding scale based upon each inmate’s net worth. Those worth $200,000 and more will for their entire stay, estimated at around $90 per day. Those worth $40,000 or less will not have to pay. The proposed law would not affect homes, mortgage payments, and child support payments, although middle-class prisoners’ families would surely suffer.

Federal Prison Reimbursement
The bill’s namesake, Bernard Madoff, was prosecuted under federal law, which already provides for reimbursement of confinement costs, although it is not statutorily required. The current Federal Sentencing Guidelines advise federal judges to consider, among other things, “the expected costs to the government of any term of probation, or term of imprisonment and term of supervised release imposed” when determining the amounts of fines for defendants convicted of federal crimes. The courts impose fines in all cases, unless the defendants establish that they are unable to pay. In the Madoff case, no fine was imposed because all of Madoff’s assets will be put toward compensating victims.

Prior to 1997, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines instructed judges to “impose an additional fine amount that is at least sufficient to pay the costs to the government of any imprisonment, probation, or supervised release ordered.” The Sentencing Commission elected to dispense with that requirement following a circuit court split regarding whether such a fine may be imposed without imposition of any punitive fine. Recognizing that the section was rarely used by judges, the reimbursement factor was simply rolled into the punitive fine.

Georgia’s Attempt to Pass a Similar Law
Although New York’s Madoff bill is generating national headlines, legislators in Georgia introduced a similar bill in February to little fanfare. HB 295 would have established “The Jail and Prison Reimbursement Act,” requiring inmates to pay the state for medical costs incurred during detention, as well as per diem costs of incarceration. It never made it out of the State Institutions & Property Committee before the General Assembly adjourned in April.