Michael Benanti spent 16 years in prison for conspiring to rob a bank. Now he is a banker for a captive audience, reports the Wall Street Journal. Five years ago, Benanti launched Prisoner Assistant Inc., which that helps inmates set up bank accounts, establish credit and conduct a variety of services that are difficult to perform from behind bars. Benanti, 41, believes people who leave prison with a banking relationship are less likely to return. The idea has found some support in research in the U.K., where banks have worked with prisons to open up inmate accounts and there was indication of a decline in the number of repeat offenders.
“They get out with something to lose,” Benanti said. Prison officials have concerns about Benanti’s company and the services it provides. They worry it could become a conduit for funding crimes and smuggling contraband, among other issues. Ron McAndrew, a former Florida warden and now an industry consultant, said corrections authorities “want to have as much control over an inmate’s money as possible,” because it is their responsibility to make sure restitution, fines or other financial penalties ordered by courts are paid. Ex-inmates who have used Benanti’s services—he has 300 clients—estimated that more than half of U.S. prisoners are without a bank account. Many prisoners rely on limited-use commissary accounts, which bear no interest for them and have no financial footprint on the outside.