The Prison Industrial Complex Part 2: Prisoners and Their Money

Warning: the following is all about capitalism.

Hey, I warned you.

So, as I’ve previously mentioned, the PIC (prison-industrial complex) is all kinds of horrible unspeakable nasty terribleness. Today I want to cover how the Washington DOC (Department of Corrections) treats the money of the people under their jurisdiction and the money of their friends and family

I figured it might be something I should mention considering I am asking you to give me money to transition and I just so happen to be one of those people that are under the jurisdiction of the of the Washington DOC.

The first thing I should mention is that the 13th Amendment of the Constitution didn’t completely abolish slavery in the US. Rather, it limited it to prisoners. (If you haven’t seen it yet, Netflix has a great documentary all about this called “13th,” you should totally check it out, after you finish reading this of course.) This means that it is legal for the PIC to force prisoners to work for little to no pay. Which, surprise surprise, is exactly what they do.

Regular Prison Employment in Washington State

In Washington the laws say that inmates that have a class 3 job are to be paid up to $0.42 an hour to a maximum of $55 a month. A class 3 job is the vast majority of jobs.

Furthermore, 5% of that is taken for the cost of incarceration and another $.50 for the “TV Cable Fee” which is taken regardless of whether or not a particular person owns a TV or not. So the absolute maximum amount a person with a class 3 job can make after DOC has its take is $51.75. Then there are various deductions that I will cover below.

CI or “Industries” Jobs in Washington State

Next up we have class 2 jobs. These are called “industries jobs” because they are working for a company called Correctional Industries (CI) that has an exclusive contract with the DOC to make all the stuff that the prison needs to keep running. Thus inmates that work for CI are exploited to an extreme degree in that they are being made to aid in their own confinement by manufacturing the clothes, food, furniture, toiletries, tools, cardboard boxes, sheets, blankets, and other various items needed to keep all these people in prison. All these items are made as cheaply as possible.

My most extreme experience with this was a few years back in Walla Walla closed custody when we still got the LSI shoes from Bob Barker (which are made with inmate labor in another state). I was issued them brand new 3 months earlier and they fell apart one afternoon so quickly that from the time the right shoe had a small hole in the toe that morning, to the time it would no longer stay on my foot was from morning unit yard at 9:45 am to dinner at 5:00 pm that night.

Where was I? That’s right, CI jobs. The starting wage for them is $0.60 an hour and you then get a $0.05 to $0.10 raise each month as long as you make your hours and don’t piss off your boss up to a maximum of $1.80 an hour. Which sounds great as compared to $0.42 an hour; however, the DOC takes more money from inmates that work CI jobs. There is 10% for the “offender betterment fund” (actual name, no joke) and 20% for “victims’ welfare.” Neither of which are used to better inmates or see to the welfare of crime victims/survivors. These are the minimum amount taken from everyone that works a CI job and it gets more complex from here depending on an individual’s personal circumstances.

I have heard of class 1 jobs, but I’ve never met someone that said they had one so I don’t know what they are and the policies are super sketchy on the details.

Washington DOC on the take

Any time a person in the Washington DOC gets money, there is a whole slew of excuses that the DOC uses to tax a chunk of that money. And when I say “chunk” I mean a big old ginormous hunk of change. There is a set of exceptions to this having to deal with the various subaccounts people in the Washington DOC can use. I will be covering those next.

Keep in mind that however many of the following apply, no matter what, the total amount of money taken never exceeds 95%.

First off, 20% goes to victim’s welfare programs. Like getting people into counseling or helping repair their house or car after having a crime committed against them. I would be 100% okay with this money being taken from every penny I ever get in DOC, if the money actually went towards that. However… as far as I know it doesn’t. I don’t know where this money does go but it’s not towards helping repair their lives. This applies to:

  • pay from class 3 jobs
  • pay from CI jobs
  • money sent to General Spendable

Then there’s the Offender Betterment Fund (OBF). It is supposed to be used to help pay for programs and other things to help people in prison. There is an ongoing controversy over what exactly this money is being spent on and the need to have a full public audit of the DOC’s finances. Money for this is taken from:

  • pay from a class 3 job
  • pay from a CI job
  • money sent to a General Spendable Account

If a person has a release date, then 10% gets placed in a “savings account” which is used to pay off any debts they have with the DOC before they are released and they get the remainder as a check as they walk out the door. This is applied to:

  • pay from a CI job
  • money sent to a General Spendable Account

If at some point they had zero items and they needed hygiene items, or to see medical, or to mail a letter, they accrue institutional debt from getting these things off the store. If they have institutional debt then that’s a 20% deduction from:

  • pay from a class 3 job
  • pay from a CI job
  • money sent to a General Spendable Account

“Legal Financial Obligations” (LFO) are monies that are ordered to be paid by a person that is convicted of a crime at their sentencing hearing. They have 12.5% interest compounded yearly while in prison making it impossible to pay off. Usually an obscene amount of money. LFO’s cause another 20% to be taken from:

  • pay from a CI job
  • money sent to General Spendable Account

Work Release Debt. As in, someone had good enough behavior in prison to earn work release as a part of their release plan and the DOC charges them a little under $1000 for the privilege. Often someone will lose that privilege or return to prison after release, but they keep the debt. Work release is another 20% deduction from:

  • pay from a CI job
  • money sent to a General Spendable Account

Cost of incarceration is another 5% that goes toward the DOC paying the power bill and other utilities. It is taken from:

  • pay from a class 3 job
  • money sent to a General Spending Account

Lastly, if someone is behind on their child support payments, the DOC takes money for all the above items, then figures out the difference between how much has already been taken and 95%. That amount is taken and put towards child support payments from:

  • pay from a class 3 job
  • pay from a CI job
  • money sent to a General Spendable Account

The Various Accounts, or: How to Keep Your Money

There is a loophole for us to keep the money that people send us. It doesn’t help without paychecks because our paychecks are direct deposit to the General Spendable Account and it comes with certain limitations.

In addition to the General Spendable Account we have access to a series of sub accounts. The DoC doesn’t take any of the money from the subaccounts; however, money in a particular subaccount can only be used to buy things related to that subaccount. The subaccounts and what they can be used for are:

  • medical
  • medical copays
  • over the counter medicines purchased from the CI store
  • offender paid healthcare for getting medical treatment that medical refuses to pay for (like gender affirming surgery for yours truly)
  • postage
  • prefranked envelopes purchased from CI store
  • shipping costs of property or packages
  • cover additional postage on letters that weight more than 2 oz
  • shipping hold
  • cost of shipping TV, typewriter, radio, instruments, or other large items from one facility to another when transferred
  • education
  • correspondence courses
  • textbooks
  • other preapproved educational materials
  • savings
  • gate money
  • media – a part of Jscam, I mean Jpay.com
  • estamps – used to send emails
  • music – MP3s to listen to on the Jpay player
  • games – played on the Jpay player
  • Comm Serv Rev Fund

I honestly have no idea what this last one is actually for. The name hints at it having something to do with comms that serve with reverends for funds.

JPay will probably be the subject of a few posts in the future. On the one hand without them I would be suck with only using snail mail to communicate with people and I wouldn’t have a glorified MP3 player to type all these posts on in the first place. But on the other hand… They’re expensive as all get out! $0.17 per e-stamp (more accurately $10 per 60). One e-stamp lets me send one email. Each additional e-stamp allows me to send a photo with that letter taken with the webcam that’s built into the JPay kiosk. Since when does email cost anything? And that’s the least of my complaints about them.

Anywho… I hope this gives you an idea of where prisoners in Washington state are at financially and why the only way I have any shot at getting any gender affirming surgeries is to get a little help from my friends.

Editor’s Note: support Amber in funding her gender transition by sharing or donating to her YouCaring page.

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