Pat Taylor holding a picture of her son, Eddie, who is serving 20-year prison sentence at Bland Correctional Center in Virginia. This story was published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D. Pat Taylor doesn’t believe in going into debt. She keeps her bills in a freezer bag under her bed, next to old photo albums, and believes in paying how To Make Money On Virtual Families on time religiously. For Taylor, living within your means is part of being a good Christian. Lately, Taylor, 64, has felt torn between that commitment and her desire to be a loving, supportive mother for her son Eddie. Eddie, 38, is serving 20-year prison sentence at Bland Correctional Center for armed robbery.
He’s doing his time at a medium-security Virginia state prison located 137 miles northwest of Johnson City, across the dips and valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains here in the heart of Appalachia. The cost of supporting and visiting Eddie keeps going up, so Pat makes trade-offs. 50, a strain on her housekeeper’s wages. So she alternates, visiting Eddie one week and sending him money the next. But in March of last year, the Virginia Department of Corrections informed her that JPay Inc. Florida, would begin handling all deposits into inmates’ accounts.
Sending a money order through JPay takes too long, so Taylor started using her debit card to get him funds instead. Depending on how much she can afford to send, the fee can be as high as 35 percent. In other states, JPay’s fees approach 45 percent. After the fee, the state takes out another 15 percent of her money for court fees and a mandatory savings account, which Eddie will receive upon his release in 2021, minus the interest, which goes to the Department of Corrections. Eddie needs money to pay for basic needs like toothpaste, visits to the doctor and winter clothes. In some states families of inmates pay for toilet paper, electricity, even room and board, as governments increasingly shift the costs of imprisonment from taxpayers to the families of inmates.
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Taylor, who moved to a smaller apartment on the outskirts of Johnson City in part because of the rising cost of supporting Eddie. They’re punishing the families, not the inmates. JPay and other prison bankers collect tens of millions of dollars every year from inmates’ families in fees for basic financial services. To make payments, some forego medical care, skip utility bills and limit contact with their imprisoned relatives, the Center for Public Integrity found in a six-month investigation. Inmates earn as little as 12 cents per hour in many places, wages that have not increased for decades. The prices they pay for goods to meet their basic needs continue to increase. By erecting a virtual tollbooth at the prison gate, JPay has become a critical financial conduit for an opaque constellation of vendors that profit from millions of poor families with incarcerated loved ones.
JPay streamlines the flow of cash into prisons, making it easier for corrections agencies to take a cut. Prisons do so directly, by deducting fees and charges before the money hits an inmate’s account. They also allow phone and commissary vendors to charge marked-up prices, then collect a share of the profits generated by these contractors. Taken together, the costs imposed by JPay, phone companies, prison store operators and corrections agencies make it far more difficult for poor families to escape poverty so long as they have a loved one in the system. Lee Petro, an attorney who helped litigate for a national cap on some prison phone rates. In 12 years, JPay says it has grown to provide money transfers to more than 1. 7 million offenders in 32 states, or nearly 70 percent of the inmates in U.