Inmate loses deduction challenge
Court upholds policy to take money from commissary account for fines, restitution
An inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Houtzdale has lost his challenge to a Pennsylvania Department of Corrections policy of taking 25% of the money from his commissary account to pay court costs, fines and restitution.
Shawn Freemore, 30, complained last year when the DOC took $37.50 from a $150 family contribution to his inmate account.
Freemore contended the state cannot deduct from money given as a gift to an inmate. Deductions from an inmate account can only be taken from money he has earned in prison, Freemore claimed.
He cited state law which he said limited deductions to only “wages, salaries and commissions” that he received from his prison labor.
He contended that the Department is essentially his employer and he argued gifts to his account do not fit the definition outlined in state law. In his case, the “gift” was from a family member.
He went on to argue before the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court that the DOC policy of taking 25% of gift income to his account “is antithetical to the public interest because it results in civilians paying the inmate’s costs rather than the inmate himself paying what he owes.”
He also contended that his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution were violated due to the lack of due process in taking the money.
The DOC responded that state law authorizes the department to deduct funds from an inmate’s account for court ordered costs, fines and restitution, and such deductions do not require prior court approval.
Commonwealth Court Judge J. Andrew Crompton, in an opinion this week, concluded that “Freemore’s arguments fail at all levels.”
“Act 84 provides DOC with its authority for making deductions from an inmate’s account,” Crompton wrote.
“Further,” he wrote, “there is no constitutional violation when DOC makes a deduction from a gift made to an inmate’s account.”
Crompton cited a 2004 Commonwealth Court case that concluded there was a “legitimate penological interest” in collecting inmate debts.
“It encourages rehabilitation by instilling a sense of financial responsibility,” according to the opinion in Danysh v. Department of Corrections.
Crompton, joined in his opinion by judges Mary Hannah Leavitt and Patricia A. McCullough, dismissed Freemore’s petition.
Freemore is serving a life term for a 2009 murder committed in Monroe County.