Illinois is suing former inmates to recoup the cost of their imprisonment, an effort intended to help fund prison operations that makes convicted felons feel a financial pinch for their crimes in addition to the time they do, reports the Chicago Tribune. Some of the lawsuits target convicted murderers or sex offenders serving lengthy prison terms. Other suits target less serious offenders who have earned or come into relatively modest sums of money, whether through an inheritance, a trust fund or the settlement of a wrongful death lawsuit. Either way, critics say the lawsuits make it harder for released prisoners to get back on their feet, defeating the department’s goals of rehabilitation and cutting recidivism.
Because financial stability and a job are key to not returning to prison, taking away an inmate’s financial safety net increases the odds of a return to crime or at least dependency on taxpayers, The Tribune cites the case of Johnny Melton, who got $31,690 settle a lawsuit over his mother’s death, money he hoped would help him start life anew after prison. Before he was released after 15 months in prison for a drug conviction, the state sued Melton and won nearly $20,000 to cover the cost of his incarceration. When Melton was paroled this year, he was forced to go to a homeless shelter, then was taken in by a cousin. He got food stamps. When he died in June, said his family, he was destitute. “He didn’t have a dime,” said a sister, Denise. “We had to scuffle up money to cremate him.”