Monday, September 28, 2009

Should Missouri Prisons Be Entitled to Money Belonging to Escapees?

Posted By on Mon, Sep 28, 2009 at 2:45 PM

That's the question Missouri State Auditor Susan Montee asks in her audit released today of the state's Department of Corrections. 

Montee's review of the department discovered that corrections officials have confiscated more than $1 million in prisoner accounts and canteen coupons from convicts who've escaped the system. The DOC has spent roughly one-sixth of that money to pay for computer upgrades. 

But that's not proper, says Montee, who maintains the escapee's money should should go into the State Treasurer's Unclaimed Property Division -- a gigantic "lost and found" that attempts to reconnect people with their missing belongings. 

Question is, should those escapees really be entitled to the money they left back in prison? 

Under state law, the Unclaimed Property Division essentially guarantees that people can receive any property -- or the monetary value of that property -- belonging to them at any time. (Currently, Missouri's unclaimed property stands at $550 million.)

Though, state treasurer spokesman Jon Galloway tells Daily RFT that it's unclear if escapees would be guaranteed their money should they have the cojones to show up and try to claim it. 

"We'd have to discuss this possibility with both the auditor and the Department of Corrections," says Galloway. 

Montee's audit also reveals just how big a business the canteen service at Missouri prisons. Each year Missouri inmates spend around $29 million at prison stores buying everything from deodorant to televisions.

The canteens are supposed to operate without taxpayer assistance, yet each year the state's general revenue pours hundreds of thousands of dollars into subsidizing the prison stores. 

In her audit, Montee found that the DOC canteen fund has taken in millions in surplus monies in recent years and should be able to be self-sufficient. 

Prison officials, however, argue that the canteens should be funded because they benefit the quality of life of inmates and provide stamps, paper and pencils for addressing the legal system. 

Also the televisions sold at the canteen mean fewer inmates choose to recreate in the prison yard, which means less manpower is needed to oversee prisoners. 

Prison officials could not immediately be reached for comment. 

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