Why the Bureau of Prisons’ Proposal to Seize Commissary Funds Must Be Withdrawn

In January 2023, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons proposed a shocking amendment that would confiscate 75 percent of outside contributions to an incarcerated person’s commissary account to pay off court-ordered fines, fees, and restitution. If implemented, this proposal will financially devastate thousands of low-income people incarcerated by the Bureau of Prison (BOP) and undermine their ultimate reentry to their communities. Many will be forced to forgo food, rent or other necessities in order to provide basic necessities for their loved ones behind bars. The implementation of this egregious proposal wouldn’t only impact working families, it would set a dangerous precedent for states that might seek to follow the lead of the Justice Department and impose similar policies on people who are incarcerated.

Former Director at the DOJ Calls Proposal to Seize Commissary Funds “A Total Disaster”

In a video urging the Department of Justice officials to withdraw this proposal, Former Director of the Office Access to Justice at the Department of Justice, Lisa Foster, called this latest move by the DOJ “shocking”, noting that “the DOJ itself acknowledges that the proposal to seize a family’s money is inequitable and unjust”. See the full video below.

Fines and Fees Justice Center and 30+ Organizations Submit Letters in Opposition to DOJ Proposal to Seize Commissary Funds

On March 6, 2023, the Fines and Fees Justice Center submitted a letter in opposition to the DOJ’s egregious proposal. Prior to the close of the comment period on March 13, over 1,000 people submitted comments in opposition. You can read the full letter we sent to the DOJ here.

Sens. Dick Durbin, Cory Booker, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Chris Coons Author Letter Highlighting Concerns Over New BOP Proposal

On March 14, 2023, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Chris Coons (D-DE), all of whom sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, co-authored a letter to BOP director Colette Peters. “We have 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,” the senators wrote. Read the full letter here.

Coalition of Advocates Submit FOIA Request & Call on BOP to Re-Open Comments

On March 31 2023, th Washington Lawyers’ Committee together with a coalition of advocates submitted a FOIA request for data which would explain why proposed changes are needed and why the changes being proposed are the appropriate remedy. In the letter they noted, “The data sought is urgently needed to allow the public to adequately understand and evaluate the need to change the current regulations and the BOP’s proposed solution. Any attempt to implement the proposed rule change without prior disclosure and the opportunity for public comment on the information requested below is likely to be considered arbitrary and capricious and therefore unlawful.” See the full FOIA request here.

On April 4, a coalition of advocates co-authored a letter to BOP requesting the agency reopen the comment period for the proposed rules because of a pending FOIA request filed by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee. Read the full letter here.