Prepaid ‘Release Cards’ Given to Prisoners Charge High Fees

April 30, 2015, Written By Bill Hardekopf
Prison interior

Recently released inmates are being financially penalized due to a loophole in the rules that exempts prison prepaid cards from standard debit card regulations. This takes away from the already limited amount of money former prisoners receive from family contributions or earned from miscellaneous jobs while incarcerated.

Every prisoner is given a “release card” when he completes his sentence or qualifies for parole. This is a prepaid debit card that contains all of the remaining money that his family members have given him during his time in prison. It also includes any money earned through the work opportunities at the prison, like sorting books in the library or cleaning parts of the facilities.

The problem most former inmates encounter with these cards is that the companies providing the cards charge extraordinarily high fees. A recent survey found companies can charge a $1.50 balance inquiry fee and maintenance fees that can be as high as $2.50 per week. Families must also pay money to load funds on the release cards, which in some cases can be nearly 25% of the transaction.

JPMorgan Chase is the exclusive provider of these release cards for federal prisons. Companies such as JPay, Rapid Financial Security, Keefe Group and Numi Financial handle the cards for state and local facilities.

Without regulating these prepaid cards, released prisoners will continue to be penalized with high fees on this critical source of money.

The information contained within this article was accurate as of April 30, 2015. For up-to-date
information on any of the terms, cards or offers mentioned above, visit the issuer's website.