Published on: Monday, January 10, 2022

The Eighth Circuit on Monday said the government can't collect inmates' prison wages to satisfy victim restitution orders, agreeing with two other appeals court opinions and vacating a lower court order to seize $5,500 from an Arkansas prisoner's trust account (article available here).

In a unanimous opinion, the Eighth Circuit returned the case of federal inmate Corey Kidd to district court, where federal prosecutors won an order in July 2020 to transfer Kidd's prison earnings toward his restitution obligation of approximately $62,000 on armed robbery charges.

The court of appeals chided the district court for granting the government's request "without discussing contrary decisions of two sister circuits."

The court held Congress had something else in mind when it enacted the statute for restitution collection in cases where an inmate gains "substantial resources" while incarcerated.

"The inference from that wording is that Congress focused on single transactions from outside sources, not the $18 per month paid by the government into Kidd's inmate trust account for his prison wages," the court wrote. "Nor do we see any hint in this language that the statute was intended to apply, counterintuitively, to payments made to an inmate during incarceration by the institution that was incarcerating him."

In district court, Kidd, representing himself, asked for a hearing to "properly produce and present the means in which I received and saved money," the opinion noted. "I am an indigent inmate, who happens to work in the prison for eighteen dollars a month," Kidd wrote to the court. He added, "Every so often I may receive outside funds from someone as a result of payment for hand washing clothes, cleaning cells or acting as a personal microwave cook. Outside of that, for the most part I have no financial support."

The district court denied Kidd's request for a hearing before granting the government's motion to seize his money.