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SUNDAY, JUNE 3, 2007

Alabama audit calls inmate fees illegal; DOC won’t halt

MONTGOMERY (AP) — State examiners found that the Alabama Department of Corrections has been illegally collecting millions of dollars from prisoners in fees for medical visits and rides to their work-release jobs.

A DOC spokesman said there are no plans to halt the collections.

The Department of Examiners of Public Accounts audit released Friday said the state should not be charging inmates $5 for rides to and from work-release jobs, $3 co-pays to visit medical staff and $31.50 for drug tests.

“The department should only charge fees authorized by law,” and no state law gives the DOC the authority to levy the fees, according to the audit reported by The Birmingham News in a story Saturday.

Corrections officials have collected the fees despite four consecutive audits saying DOC lacks legal authority to do so and recommending that it stop, the examiners said.

According to DOC records, the agency collects more than $1 million a year from the fees, mostly from the charges for transportation to and from work-release jobs.

Inmates are charged $2.50 for a one-way ride, and $5 for a round-trip. Corrections has collected more than $13 million from the fees since January 2001, according to financial reports available on its Web site.

DOC spokesman Brian Corbett said the agency has no plans to stop collecting the fees from its prisoners, because the alternative is placing the burden on taxpayers.

“DOC would rather an inmate pay for his or her own transportation to and from work, a positive drug test or a medical co-pay rather than have the taxpayers foot the bill,” Corbett said.

While the audit is correct when it indicates there is no law authorizing the DOC to charge the prisoners for the services, “there’s also no specific law that says we cannot charge the fees,” he said. The co-pay for medical care is meant to discourage inmates from seeking unneeded care just to get out of their cells, and is waived if the doctor determines the prisoner really is ill, Corbett said.

The $31.50 fee levied for drug tests is charged to the inmate only if the test is positive, and that revenue goes to the drug lab, not to the DOC, he said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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