Norton Seeking to Remove Halfway House Subsistence Fees, Health Care Co-pays for Federal Inmates
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today announced she has filed two amendments to the fiscal year 2020 Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill to prohibit the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) from using its fiscal year 2020 funds to charge subsistence fees for offenders in halfway houses and health care co-pays for inmates. D.C. Code inmates are housed by the BOP. The House Rules Committee will consider the amendments next week.
One amendment would eliminate so-called “subsistence fees” the BOP imposes on offenders in residential reentry centers (RRCs), or halfway homes, which are supposedly to promote financial responsibility by requiring RRC residents to pay a portion of their housing costs. The fee is currently 25% of a resident’s income. Offenders who are able to find work most often work minimum wage jobs. The loss of 25% of their paychecks is a significant hurdle to successful reentry and makes it extremely difficult for them to pay rent, child support, or fines and fees associated with their conviction (such as restitution).
The other amendment would remove the copay BOP inmates are required to pay to visit a BOP-provided doctor. Currently, BOP inmates are required to pay a fee for health services of $2.00 per healthcare visit. While $2.00 may seem insignificant, when inmates earn only twelve to forty cents per hour on their work assignments, $2.00 is substantial.
“Inmates should be encouraged to seek medical care before conditions worsen,” Norton said. “Preventative care is much less expensive for the federal government and saves the taxpayers money in the long run. Similarly, it is not in the public interest to take part of the earnings from offenders. Those who manage to find employment and are working toward independence should be encouraged to work, which would help them avoid criminal activity. Jobs and affordable housing are critical components of successful reentry. Charging copays and subsistence fees is antithetical to this goal.”
These amendments have the same goal as legislation Norton introduced in April, the Federal Bureau of Prisons Medical Care Act of 2019 (H.R. 2365) and the Ensuring Successful Reentry Act (H.R. 2366).
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has already recognized how “counterproductive” subsistence fees are, both for offenders and BOP. In a November 2016 memo, then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates noted that BOP’s “process for collecting these subsistence fees is costly and administratively burdensome for both RRC’s and [BOP],” and called for DOJ to “develop a plan to limit the use of counterproductive ‘subsistence’ fees imposed on indigent residents.”