Booker, Durbin, Whitehouse, Coons Raise Concerns about Proposed Changes to Trust Accounts of Individuals in BOP Custody

Government and Politics

March 14, 2023

Senators to DOJ and BOP: Proposed rule further marginalizes the vast majority of incarcerated individuals and would create additional barriers to successful reentry

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Chair of the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, along with U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Chris Coons (D-DE), members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a comment letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Colette Peters regarding the Department of Justice (DOJ) and BOP’s proposed rule on the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program. In the letter, the Senators applauded DOJ and BOP for taking action to address troubling reports about inmate accounts held by certain high-profile individuals. However, the Senators raised serious concerns that the proposed rule would further marginalize the vast majority of incarcerated individuals who are indigent and would create additional barriers to successful reentry.

Beginning in June 2021, the Washington Post published a series of articles reporting how notorious criminals, including Larry Nassar, R. Kelly, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, held thousands of dollars in their inmate trust accounts while paying little to nothing to their victims. The reports made clear that BOP was failing in its duty to effectively manage the Inmate Trust/Deposit Fund Program with respect to these individuals’ accounts and that the program was in serious need of reform.

In response to the Post’s reporting, the Senate Judiciary Committee called for BOP to provide information on its management and oversight of the Trust Fund Program. Shortly after the Committee's August 2021 letters, BOP updated its guidance on the Inmate Trust/Deposit Fund Program and instituted mandatory training for employees overseeing it.

“These were reasoned and measured steps to bringing greater accountability to inmate financial accounts, and addressing the specific issue of individuals with unusually large account balances failing to meet financial obligations,” wrote the Senators in a letter to Attorney General Garland and BOP Director Peters. “Unfortunately, the proposed rule lacks similar reason and measure. Further, many of the proposed changes have a substantial likelihood of impeding successful reentry.”

On January 10, BOP issued a proposed rule updating regulations regarding the Inmate Trust/Deposit Fund Program. BOP’s proposed rule has several provisions that appear to be overly burdensome on incarcerated individuals and their families. Specifically, the proposal would:

    Eliminate the $75 minimum reserve in inmate accounts for telephone calls to family and make every dollar in inmate accounts subject to assessments;

    Require a minimum of 25 percent of all inmate pay from prison work be assessed for debts;

    Require 75 percent of all deposits from community sources, including family members, be assessed for debts; and,

    Make refusal to participate in the Inmate Trust/Deposit Fund Program a disqualifier for earning and applying earned timed credits under the First Step Act.

“We recommend that the Justice Department review its proposed rule and revise it to appropriately balance the interests of incarcerated people’s rehabilitation and basic needs with the interest of addressing outstanding financial obligations,” concluded the Senators.

Full text of the letter is available here.