All too often, prisons and jails partner with private companies to charge people released from custody for the privilege of accessing their own money. Until recently, when a facility wanted to return money to someone upon release — money that was in that person's possession when arrested, money earned working in the facility, or money sent by friends and relatives — the facility would give cash or write a check. Now a growing number of prisons and jails are issuing pre-paid debit cards that eat up the meager balances with high fees.
Report and resources
Model reform legislation:
- Release card legislation for states
Our sample legislation bans release card fees and requires that incarcerated people be given the option to have their funds returned by cash or check.
- The CFPB's enforcement order against prison profiteer JPay, explained by Wanda Bertram, October 28, 2021.
The company was fined $6 million for exploiting people leaving prison.
- CFPB housekeeping risks release card protections by Stephen Raher, August 15, 2017.
We urge the CFPB to keep release cards in mind when revising regulations so they don't unintentionally undermine their own reforms.
- A partial victory: release cards included in CFPB's new regulations by Aleks Kajstura, October 5, 2016.
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's new regulations increase protections for people released from prison and jail, who are often forced to use release cards.
- Comments to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, March 18, 2015
PPI submits a comment to the CFPB urging regulation of high-fee release cards.
- Will the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau protect the public from high-fee "release cards"? by Aleks Kajstura, February 6, 2015.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will soon revise its rules for debit card regulation. We explain why the CFPB should include "release cards" for people leaving prison in its new rules.
- What Gate Money Can (And Cannot) Buy, by Mia Armstrong and Nicole Lewis, The Marshall Project, September 10, 2019
- Fees, fees and more fees: the high cost of being a Georgia prisoner, by Ashley Soriano, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 31, 2019
Lawsuit reveals how tech companies profit off the prison-industrial complex, by Katie Rose Quandt, ThinkProgress, February 9, 2018
- The Financial Firm That Cornered the Market on Jails, by Arun Gupta, The Nation, August 1, 2015
- Menendez Joins Booker, Colleagues in Urging CFPB to Protect Formerly Incarcerated from Predatory Prison Prepaid Cards, November 3, 2015
- How private bankers cash in on released prisoners, by German Lopez, Vox, November 3, 2015
- Chase Bank Accused of Gouging Ex-Inmates, by Andrew Thompson, Courthouse News Service, September 14, 2015
- 'Release cards' turn inmates and their families into profit stream, by Amadou Diallo, Al Jazeera America, April 20, 2015
- Lack of choice on high-fee inmate debit cards draws widespread criticism, by Daniel Wagner, The Center for Public Integrity, March 25, 2015
- Inmates Charged Fee After Leaving Jail, by Herb Weisbaum, NBC News, March 24, 2015