A group of Republican state legislators in Wisconsin is pushing to pass a bill forcing prisoners incarcerated in the state to use their stimulus funds to pay restitutions for their crimes, The Washington Post reports.
“President Biden’s irresponsible stimulus package sends stimulus checks to imprisoned murderers, rapists, and child molesters,” State Sen. Julian Bradley, a Republican and a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement to The Post. “[We] are taking action to ensure the victims of these heinous crimes are paid restitution before criminals sitting in prison can profit.”
Although the GOP controls both chambers of Wisconsin’s legislature, it’s unclear if Democrat Gov. Tony Evers would support a bill of this kind.
Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana attempted to prevent prisoners from receiving stimulus checks with an amendment to the COVID-19 relief package passed by Democrats, who rejected their amendment.
Cassidy said on the Senate floor, "Prisoners have all their living and medical expenses paid for by the taxpayer, they don’t pay taxes, they don't contribute to the tax base, they can't be unemployed. Inmates are not economically impacted by” the pandemic.
“Look how crazy some of the Democratic ideas are. I mean, they had a chance on Saturday morning to stop checks from going to prisoners, from going to the Boston bomber, for instance. And on that vote, they declined,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said on Fox News earlier this month. “Every single Democrat wanted to continue the practice of sending checks to prisoners… just goes to show how radical their ideas are.”
Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in remarks on the Senate floor that denying stimulus checks to prisoners would negatively impact their families.
"Given the stark racial disparities in our criminal justice system, this would cause the most harm to Black and brown families and communities already harmed by mass incarceration," Durbin said. "Children should not be forced to go hungry because a parent is incarcerated."
Prisoners were able to qualify for stimulus checks in the legislative packages passed under former President Donald Trump and through the Republican-controlled Senate, with Cotton voting to pass both bills, according to Politifact.
Last spring, when Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (Cares) Act, lawmakers did not explicitly include or exclude incarcerated people, as with other groups like illegal immigrants.
Inmates, like other Americans, were eligible for the $1,200 stimulus checks, which the Internal Revenue Service approved. The agency sent about $100 million in funds to people incarcerated, through nearly 85,000 economic impact payments, The Washington Post reported.
The IRS, however, did an about-face on that rule, alerting jail and prison officials that they should seize any future payments. Incarcerated people and their families who had already received the relief funds were told they should return it.
Those affected by the decision later joined a class-action suit in California, and a federal judge twice sided with their case and then ordered prisons and jails to give their inmates more time and resources to receive their stimulus payments, The Washington Post reported.
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