I need your help. I co-founded the Prison Policy Initiative to put the problem of mass incarceration — and the perverse incentives that fuel it — on the national agenda. Over the last 16 years, our campaigns have protected our democracy from the prison system and protected the poorest families in this country from the predatory prison telephone industry. Our reports untangle the statistics and recruit new allies.

But now, more than ever, we need your help to put data & compassion into the conversation. Any gift you can make today be matched by other donors and go twice as far.

Thank you.
—Peter Wagner, Executive DirectorDonate

by Wendy Sawyer, October 26, 2016

Good news from Gallup this week that “surging” numbers of Americans respect the police needs a gentle reminder that this is only a small part of the picture.

Gallup asks Americans two similar-sounding questions about attitudes towards police every year that get very different responses. In the fall, Gallup’s poll asks about respect specifically for local police; in the summer, another question asks about confidence in the police as an institution in American society.

The positive responses reported this week were for the question “How much respect do you have for the police in your area?” Americans’ respect for local police is apparently much higher than their confidence in the police in general.

Last year, the Prison Policy Initiative’s Rachel Gandy charted confidence in the police, which showed that in 2015, just 52% of Americans had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the police as an institution in American society. This June, Gallup reported that confidence went up only 4% from last year’s 22-year low, and just “a slim majority of Americans have confidence in the police as an institution.”

Jesse Walker on Reason.com offers a quick analysis of cultural conditions in 2016 that may account for the increase in respect for police, and points out the important differences between the measures of respect and confidence.

Most obviously, when Gallup asks about respect for police, it asks about local police, who may be familiar faces to many Americans – even neighbors and relatives on the force. This question also comes at a time when the memories of the shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge are still fresh. Respect for police is a given. It dominates presidential debates and is a common refrain used to denounce critics of police brutality.

Of course Americans respect the police. But do they trust them? That is the question of confidence.


by Aleks Kajstura, October 5, 2016

Today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a final rule on prepaid debit cards. Last year, the Prison Policy Initiative and other groups urged the CFBP to use this rulemaking to address abusive practices related to prepaid debit cards issued to people upon their release from prison or jail. The CFPB’s decision today is a partial win, but more work remains to be done.

The good news is that release cards will be covered by the new consumer protections contained in the final rule. Specifically, correctional facilities will have to provide clear fee disclosures, card issuers will have to provide reliable access to account histories, and cardholders will have some ability to dispute inaccurate charges.

Prison Policy Initiative had argued that correctional facilities should be prohibited from requiring that people receive their money on prepaid cards. The CFBP declined to impose such a prohibition at this time. Instead, the Bureau acknowledged the concerns about release cards, but said more research would need to be done before it could consider taking action.

Finally, the CFPB ruling clarified that at least some release cards should be conforming to existing (and new) regulations:

[T]o the extent that… prison release cards are used to disburse consumers’ salaries or government benefits…, such accounts are already covered … and will continue to be so under this final rule.

As the CFPB proceeds with the “additional public participation and information gathering about the specific product types at issue”, correctional facilities are increasingly using these expensive cards to repay people they release — money in someone’s possession when initially arrested, money earned working in the facility, or money sent by friends and relatives.

Before the rise of jail release cards, people were given cash or a check. Now, they are instead given a mandatory prepaid Mastercard, which comes with high fees that eat into their balance. These cards charge for basic things like:

  • Having an account (up to $3.50/week)
  • Making a purchase (up to $0.95)
  • Checking your balance (up to $3.95)
  • Closing the account (up to $30.00)

To put this into perspective, if someone is released with $125, a $2-per-week maintenance fee is equivalent to a finance charge of 77% per year. If that same hypothetical cardholder makes ten purchases of $12 each, then a $0.50 per-transaction-fee would amount to $5, or 4% of the entire card balance (on top of maintenance fees). If the cardholder wishes to convert a prepaid card into cash, he or she must pay $10 to $30 (8% to 24% of the entire deposit amount) merely to close the account.

But while the new CFPB regulations take a more robust stance on fee disclosure, allowing many people to avoid predatory pricing, they won’t help incarcerated people, who have the cards foisted on them with no choice.

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