Penn law panel discuss impact of court fines, fees on those freed from prison

Mike DeNardo
July 19, 2019 - 3:15 pm

Mike DeNardo/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — After someone is freed from prison, their debt to society isn't always fully paid. Court fines and fees were the topic of a panel discussion today at Penn's Law School.

Inmates re-entering society often face recurring fees for urinalysis, or $30 a month supervision fees.  A failure to pay could land those freed from prison, right back behind bars.

That's an issue close to the heart of Malik Bandy.

Bandy served 20 years at Graterford before becoming the Community Engagement and Communications Coordinator for Philadelphia’s Managing Director's office.

On Friday, Brand told a Penn Law panel discussion — on court fines and fees — that it's a burden when prison wages are garnished for administrative fees.

"That impact can be devastating when you get paid every 30 days and you make 19 cents an hour," he explained.

Mike DeNardo/KYW Newsradio

Bandy says inmates need money for phone calls or copies if they're researching their cases.

"And then you have your personal stuff that you may need. You may need deodorant. You may need soap. So if you're taking 20% off of $35 that you make a month — that's what the average prisoner is making. Between $35 and $50 a month."

Once inmates are out, continuing supervisory fees create a financial burden for those who are often unable to pay, said Sharon Dietrich, litigation director of Community Legal Services. 

She says unpaid fees can prevent records for minor offenses from being sealed, so she's advocating for a mass waiver of supervisory fees and revising so-called Clean Slate laws to be more forgiving.