Cashing in on Crime: Arizona Prisons Charging to Visit Inmates

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Joshua Lott / Reuters

Inmates serving a jail sentence make a phone call at Maricopa County's Tent City jail.

Call it adding insult to injury or simply a worthwhile tax to help pay for their missteps, but first-in-the-nation legislation allows a one-time $25 fee on visitors to the Arizona Department of Corrections.

Originally billed as a background check fee, the Department of Corrections now says the fee—only on those over 18 years of age, but originally intended for anyone—is an effort to help bridge a $150 million maintenance gap for the agency and that the fee would serve to keep the facilities safer for both inmates and visitors. Money wouldn’t actually be spent on administering background checks.

But not everyone loves the idea, and lawsuits have sprung up over what some call a special tax on a specific group of people.

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Prisoner rights groups call the fee “mind-boggling” and say it will only hurt the state, as family contact remains an integral part of rehabilitation. Middle Ground Prison Reform’s lawsuit claims the fee represents an unconstitutional tax. The group has also sued over a separate rule that places a 1% charge on deposits made to a prisoner’s spending account, according to the New York Times.

The Corrections Department says no prisoners have complained about the fee and that it doesn’t have data on if visitation has changed because of the rule.

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Tim Newcomb is a contributor for TIME. Find him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.