We’ve learned that to the State, the families of incarcerated men and women are a source of extra taxes for prison budgets
By Sharon Brooks
It is no secret that a lot of Black people, particularly young Black men but also way too many Black women, are in prison all across America. But it is not very well known that for each Black person locked up in Minnesota’s prisons, the State allots $35,000 (each) to house and “take care” of them. For Black men in Minnesota prisons, this cost is $35,000 times about 5,000, which is roughly 50 percent of the 9,700 inmates incarcerated here in our great state.
Yes, we have been informed that Black people make up more than 50 percent of the prison population here in Minnesota even though less than six percent of the entire state population is Black people. What? Yes. These are some of the facts that the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) Commissioner Tom Roy and his staff informed us of during our community forum on April 24, held at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church with Rev. Jerry McAfee and at least 100 people from the community.
In fact, speaking of money, the commissioner and his staff said that $169,750,000 (that’s leaning towards $200 million a year, folks) is not enough to house and “care for” the Black population of the prison, and that even with their total annual allotted budget at a half billion dollars, they still need your donations as well.
The incoming money from family and friends of inmates are taxed immediately by 10 percent to help pay for the upkeep of the law library and other miscellaneous items in the MN State prisons. What we now know is that your hard-earned dollars that are sent by you to hopefully help your loved one survive and rehabilitate while incarcerated are actually added to line the pockets of the DOC at their discretion.
They reported to us that this has been going on since 1999 without nary a question or word about it from our community. Terry Carlson of the DOC went on to say that since 2013, the community has been charged an additional 10 percent of their money sent, which ups it to 20 percent taken, if their loved one owes restitution.
The amount collected from you at the end of the year was more than $37,000. Thirty-seven grand. That’s a lot more money and we’re not even sure who gets the money, the victim who the court said should get restitution or the DOC?
To break it down in even simpler terms, this across-the-board policy by the DOC does not take into account that of the more than 50 percent of Black people housed in their institutions, most are from Black communities that statistics have proven to be still struck hard by unemployment and general lack of funding. To tax our community with the same intensity as the White community (not the Native Americans because they are exempt from this DOC tax) is abominable.
It’s time for us to speak up about this issue and see how we can get Black people who are in prison exempt from this policy. Surely $200 million a year is enough to house 5,000 inmates in MN state prison institutions where prisoners pay for their own phones, medical co-pay, toiletries, TVs, and other items (at increased prices) themselves! No way does the State need any of our community’s hard-earned money to house and “care for” them.
The MN Department of Corrections (and Volunteers of America) said that policies like these “strengthen the families of the incarcerated…gives them hope.” We are not stupid. We know that these policies are hope-killers for our community, but what can we do?
The answer is for us to stop feeding this hungry money machine with our lives. Black youth and adults alike must realize that we are simply coins in a prison vending machine that yields the prize of lack of freedom. We can also get together and end these strange demands on our wallets.
Stay tuned for part two of “What we know now…” and look for dates scheduled when the community will meet and strategize against these hope-destroying policies.
Sharon Brooks is founder of Peace of Hope: www.peaceofhope.net.