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ACLU claims Ohio prisons wrongly diverted inmates’ stimulus payments to pay fees, fines

Inmates Relief Checks
Posted at 4:32 PM, Apr 13, 2021

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU) and the Ohio Justice & Policy Center have filed a lawsuit challenging the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction’s (ODRC) policy to garnish wages from incarcerated individuals' COVID-19 relief.

The lawsuit filed in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas alleges ODRC and Ohio prisons have been garnishing relief money sent to incarcerated people and then distributing that money to pay court fees.

“Incarcerated people and their families are some of the most marginalized, economically precarious people in our society. They are also among the people most directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Michael Zuckerman, a Skadden Fellow and Attorney at the Ohio Justice & Policy Center. “It is beyond irrational to single them out and take money out of their COVID-19 relief checks, particularly when Ohio’s Attorney General has already recognized that those relief funds are exempt from debt collection for all Ohioans.”

In April 2020, Ohio Attorney General issued guidance that all Ohioans’ relief checks were exempt from garnishment for any debts, private or public, except for child support.

The lawsuit states that under ODRC’s policy, the exemption for Ohio prisoners is capped. ODRC will seize any amount of emergency relief funding above $500 to garnishment.

Two incarcerated individuals cited in the lawsuit stated the money from the relief check would have helped them to buy much-needed hygiene products and food from the commissary to supplement food given inside prison.

"We ask the court to order ODRC to immediately cease and reverse the implementation of this discriminatory, arbitrary policy. This is a blatant violation of the equal protection clause of the Ohio Constitution. The pandemic has inflicted incredible suffering on Ohio prisoners, and there is no reason to withhold this aid from them alone,” said David Carey, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Ohio.

A spokesperson for ODRC released the following statement:

We received notice of this lawsuit yesterday afternoon and it is being reviewed.

DRC does not comment on pending litigation.

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