You might’ve heard that government stimulus checks are coming for jail inmates just like they are most everyone else.
It’s absolutely true.
A stack of government checks sat on Marshall County jail chief Matt Cooper’s desk this week. Chief Cooper has a pretty busy schedule all day long seeing after the jail along with his staff of officers. The stimulus checks added one more thing to his calendar.
“I’ve got to go through and see who is still here and who has already left the jail,” the chief said.
For the ones who were still in jail, the stimulus checks will be added to their jail accounts. Inmates use the jail accounts to order “store,” snack foods, hygiene products, etc.
What about the ones who are not there?
The jail staff will not try to find forwarding addresses and send them on.
“We will mark them return to sender and send them back,” Chief Cooper said.
Shortly after Sheriff Phil Sims took office, while he, Chief Cooper and others were trying to take control of the jail, store – considered a privilege – was suspended for a time. Then it was brought back with a $25 a week limit on what inmates could order. That limit has since increased to $100.
So it’s quite possible the stimulus checks will improve the “quality of life” for prisoners for at least a while.
The stimulus checks have caused the chief and members of his staff some extra work in other ways too. The jail has “kiosks” in each cell block where inmates can send messages to jail staff asking various questions, passing along tips about various things, etc.
For awhile, Chief Cooper was getting flooded with messages from prisoners asking “Have you heard anything about my stimulus?”
He eventually had to relay a message back to all prisoners: Don’t ask about your stimulus.
That was immediately followed up by prisoners getting their families to call and ask about stimulus payments. After all, who doesn’t want to know when their money is coming?
The chief eventually had to send a message asking inmates not to have their family phone the jail over stimulus payments.
Payments to the incarcerated was one of the hotly contested points of the American Rescue Act. Congress’ bill authorizing stimulus payments and other broad spending to combat the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a report in the Austin-American Statesman, Democrats largely supported payments to inmates while Republicans opposed them. Republican Sens. Tom Cotton, Ark., and Bill Cassidy, La., put forth an amendment preventing the $1,400 payments from going to prisoners. If failed along a party-line vote.
"Senate Democrats just voted to give stimulus checks to criminals in prison," Cotton tweeted March 6. "They haven’t lost their jobs, they aren’t worried about paying rent or buying groceries."
The Statesman noted that Cotton repeated his point March 8 on Fox News, saying "every single Democrat "wanted to send checks to prisoners — invoking Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Charleston, S.C., church shooter Dylann Roof."
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., countered that not giving payments to prisoners would harm the inmates’ families.
Chief Cooper said the sheriff’s office didn’t really seek out payments for inmates.
“The government sent us the forms with instructions to distribute them to the inmates,” he said.