Despite court orders, Alabama prison officials have not frozen stimulus funds sent to prisoners

MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – For much of the year, a prosecutor and assistant worked full-time to obtain court orders to seize stimulus funds sent to state prisoners as part of the COVID-19 relief. 19 passed by Congress.

However, almost all of this money has disappeared.

Mobile County District Attorney Ashley told FOX10 News she was “furious” after learning that the Alabama Department of Corrections failed to comply with court orders last year in freezing the accounts of detainees until judges decide whether the money should be used to pay court costs and compensation for victims.

“According to the Department of Corrections, it’s not salvageable yet because he was never detained,” Rich said.

She added, “And this is absolutely contrary to a circuit court order from the Department of Corrections.”

After repeated calls and emails over the past few days, agency spokeswoman Kristi Simpson told FOX10 News that the department did not receive the court orders quickly enough.

“The Alabama Department of Corrections has gone to great lengths to deduct court-ordered payments and fees owed by inmates from their Economic Impact Payments (EIPs),” she said in a statement. communicated. “To facilitate processing, we have held funds for specific periods. At the end of this period, if no court order was received, the Department would follow a process to release the EAP funds to the inmates. We continue to review this process.

When Congress authorized the three separate rounds of stimulus payments, it imposed no eligibility restrictions on prisoners. As a result, state corrections officials told FOX10 News in April that 1,918 inmates received more than $2.3 million.

Mobile and Baldwin county prosecutors pledged to recover funds the prisoners owed in their criminal cases.

“It was a godsend for the prisoners,” Rich said. “It should have been an opportunity for the victims to be rightly paid. And that’s what we were trying to do by filing all this paperwork.

This paperwork filled two boxes in the prosecutor’s office. Rich said that after obtaining court orders freezing inmate accounts, Circuit Judges John Lockett and Rick Stout again ruled virtual hearings with inmates across the state. Some detainees did not show up for their hearings. In a few extraordinary circumstances, Rich said, judges allowed inmates to keep their stimulus money.

But for the most part, judges have issued orders requiring stimulus funds to be used for debts owed by inmates.

The district attorney’s office has targeted 340 convicted inmates in Mobile County. Together, they owed nearly a million dollars. The judges awarded $333,760. But Rich said his office only got $29,347 from 33 inmates, less than 9% of the total.

The detainees were spent or transferred to friends or relatives outside, Rich said.

Fausak’s Express Lube on Government Boulevard was one of the casualties. Court records show Melvin Franklin broke into the business in 2017 and took a cash drawer with more than $500. Joseph Gentry, the store’s assistant manager, said he went to court several times to testify, but then lost track of the case.

Franklin pleaded guilty to third degree burglary, as well as other unrelated offences.

After learning of the issue with the Department of Corrections, Gentry said he believed the company would never see that money.

“I think they messed up a bit there,” he said. “It looks like they (should have) tried to do their job a little better to find out where that money went.”

Rich said she didn’t get a satisfactory explanation for how the Department of Corrections had so much money unprotected.

“And it’s excruciating,” she said. “Other than that, we were told they were understaffed. That’s the only comment they made about any of this.

Updated at 6:29 p.m. to include a response from the Alabama Department of Corrections.

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