Former inmates say they're targeted by debit card companies
Saturday, August 3rd 2019
by Rebekah Castor
ESCAMBIA COUNTY, FL — An inmate in the Escambia County Jail is charged a $20 booking fee and a daily $3 fee for meals.
Upon release, the former inmate is given a Numi debit card. This allows the inmate to access any money left in their account.
Darrel says he was unaware of the hidden fees when given the debit card. "When I was given the card, I had $34 on it," Darrel said. "I know I used $22, then I forgot about the card for a few weeks."
Darrel says he went to use his last $12 at a gas station when his card was declined.
"When I went online to figure out why the card was declined, I learned about the monthly service fee," Darrel said.
According to the cardholder agreement, Numi debit cards charge a monthly maintenance fee of $5.95. Also, each transaction charges an additional $0.95.
There are also fees for ATM withdrawal, balance inquiry, and declined transactions.
"Why didn't someone in the jail explain this to me before they took my money from me?" Darrel said, "I wasn't told about the booking fee when I got to jail and they didn't tell me about the monthly service fee on the card either."
Darrel was given the cardholder agreement by a jail staffer when given the card.
"Who actually reads the fine print of something? If there were going to be fees like that, that should have been explained. Also, what gives someone the right to take out all those fees?” Darrel asked
Darrel plans to take legal action to address this matter.
A similar lawsuit was filed in Pennsylvania in 2016. According to the case file, an ex-convict sued J.P. Morgan Chase Bank for issuing debit cards with significant fees to inmates after release.
The bank settled this case for $446,822 awarded to thousands of former prisoners involved in this class action suit.
"All it takes is one very determined citizen to get the ball rolling and start a movement for change," Darrel said. "I may not see change in my lifetime, but hopefully I'll be able to start a grassroots movement to make change happen."
Channel 3 News investigated how the money retrieval process works in Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties as well. Both counties also use provide debit cards to inmates released.
However, in Santa Rosa County, inmates still have the option to receive a check instead.