DEBTORS PRISON

by Julian Heicklen

Debtors prison was abolished in most civilized countries, including the United States, in the 19th century. It was reintroduced into Pennsylvania in 1991, when the state legislature passed P.L. 335, No. 35 ¤3. This was incorporated as an amendment into Statute 71 P. S. ¤180­7 as Statute 71 P. S. ¤180­7.15. This amendment requires that, in order to be paroled, an inmate must pay a minimum of $30 toward his restitution fine, which will be shared by the Crime Victims Compensation Board and the PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

I received a letter dated November 30, 1997, from inmate Jeffrey L. Lanager DB­5391, which informed me that Mr. Lanager was in the State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Rockview for a parole violation. He had a parole hearing on July 14, 1997. The Board of Probation and Parole rendered a favorable decision on August 8, 1997. He received his "green sheet" on October 14, 1997, which stated that he is to be paroled subject to a number of conditions. One of these conditions was to pay at least $30 to comply with Statute 71 P. S. ¤180­7.15. However he did not have the $30, and his family either could not or would not pay it.

Mr. Lanager submitted 4 Request slips to Francis M. Dougherty, the Business Manager at SCI Rockview, throughout the month of November, asking for funds from the Inmate Welfare Fund. He received no answer to 3 of the Requests, but he did receive an answer to the 4th one. Mr. Dougherty stated "that it is not the Institutions responsibility to pay Act 27 for inmates to be paroled and that the Inmates' Welfare Fund is not for that purpose."

I called the parole office at SCI Rockview on December 10, 1997, and spoke with Edward Burke. He told me that Mr. Lanager was cleared for parole except for two things. His home plan of living with his mother had not been approved yet. It was sent to an investigator on November 17, 1997. The investigator has 35 days to return the report. Also Lanager had to pay the $30 towards fines. After all the paper work is in to the parole office, it will take one week to release Lanager.

On December 18, 1997, I again spoke to Mr. Burke, who said that Mr. Lanager's home plan was approved and that all was needed to release Mr. Lanager was the $30. If the $30 was not paid, Mr. Lanager would remain in prison until the date of his maximum sentence, April 11, 1998. It costs about $72 per day to keep an inmate in a state prison. The maintenance cost from December 18, 1997, to April 11, 1998, is about $8208. In addition it is not clear why it took from the date of the parole hearing, July 14, 1997, until October 14, 1997, to notify Mr. Lanager that he would be released. That delay cost the taxpayers about $6624 in prison maintenance costs.

The final irony is that if Mr. Lanager had been released, he could be working and might be able to pay the $30. The folly of this situation was more than I could bear as a taxpayer. I went to the Centre County Department of Probation and Parole Office on December 18, 1997, and paid the $30. Mr. Lanager was released on January 1, 1998.