Arizona Now Charges Families $25 to Visit Loved Ones in State Prisons

Prisoner advocates consider this the latest frontier for in the billion-dollar private prison industry.

By Jorge Rivas Sep 06, 2011

Arizona is now charging adults who visit any facility that houses state prisoners a $25 fee. The one-time "background check fee" is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.

Prisoner advocates say the fee will be too steep for the family members of inmates, who in many cases travel long distances to remote areas where many of the prisons are located, the New York Times reports.

The $25 background check fee took effect July 20, but it doesn’t actually go towards paying for a background check. Instead, the money is deposited in the Department of Correction’s Building Renewal Fund.

Wendy Baldo, chief of staff for the Arizona Senate, confirmed to the Times that the fees were intended to help make up the $1.6 billion deficit the state faced at the beginning of the year.

"We were trying to cut the budget and think of ways that could help get some services for the Department of Corrections," Baldo said. She added that the department "needed about $150 million in building renewal and maintenance and prior to this year, it just wasn’t getting done and it wasn’t a safe environment for the people who were in prison and certainly for the people who worked there."

There are already reports of the background check system not working as planned. A woman who had UPS confirmation of her 4-applications a $100 check being delivered had to send another $100 before her applications were processed — months after she began the application process.

"I have now spent $200 of my own money to get family in," the woman said, adding that it could take up to 60 days for the department to approve the applications.