- Associated Press - Thursday, December 3, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - The Illinois Department of Corrections is bringing a small but increasing number of lawsuits against inmates to recoup the cost of their imprisonment with an intention to help fund operations.

Some lawsuits target inmates serving lengthy prison terms. Many cases are brought against less serious offenders who earned or come into sums of money, through means such as an inheritance, trust fund or settlement, the Chicago Tribune (http://trib.in/1YDPM5F ) reports.

Critics of the department’s lawsuits say the practice makes it more difficult for paroled inmates to support themselves, undermining department goals of rehabilitating prisoners and reducing recidivism.

“If you don’t have a way to support yourself, you go to the underground economy. That’s criminal, and you go back to prison,” said Alan Mills, executive director of Chicago-based Uptown People’s Law Center, which provides inmates with legal assistance. “That’s horrible public policy.”

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Nicole Wilson said in an email to The Associated Press that the department has the right under Illinois law “to recoup from offenders the expenses incurred by their incarceration.”

The law allowing for the lawsuits dates to 1982. The number of lawsuits rose from two each in 2012 and 2013 to 11 in the first 10 months of 2015.

Money has been recovered from 11 of 31 prisoners or parolees sued since 2010, with the state getting $512,219 since then and 81 percent of that coming from two inmates.

The Illinois attorney general’s office files the lawsuits. Ann Spillane, chief of staff for Attorney General Lisa Madigan, said the office takes referrals from the Department of Corrections and considers whether cases are worth it, trying to balance the needs of inmates with how much money the department is seeking. The office is willing work with those sued to reach settlements.

“We don’t enter the case saying we’re bound and determined to take all of this person’s money,” Spillane said.

Madigan said in a statement that the lawsuits bring up “moral” questions.

“The Legislature should revisit whether this law is appropriate,” Madigan said. “These recoveries may raise roadblocks to former inmates trying to lead successful lives out of prison.”

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Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com

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