For decades, inmates leaving the Hennepin County, Mn., jail or workhouse received checks to replace any cash they had on them when they were arrested. Those checks often were lost or damaged or weren’t cashed at all because inmates lacked proper identification or a bank account, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. Starting this month, debit cards will be issued to departing inmates, who can immediately withdraw money for transportation, food, or other needs, 24 hours a day. The new program reduces the bureaucratic headache and cost of tracking thousands of checks. The county recently sent $21,000 in uncashed checks to state coffers. “We were very intent that a person could access funds with no fees,” said Mark Thompson, a county administrator. “We didn’t want any roadblocks.”
Checks from jails are often a target for fraud. Inmates released from jail when banks were closed might have to wait hours or even days to cash their check, or opt to pay high fees to a check-cashing store. The debit card does not involve any fee if used within five days. Checks unclaimed for three years are turned over to the state. In a very time-consuming process, if the check is for more than $100, the county first must send a letter of notification to the payee’s last known address. The jail and workhouse take in more than 35,000 people each year.