On any given day, more than 40,000 people are sitting in Missouri jails and prisons. Some have been sentenced for a crime. Others are waiting for the disposition of their case. In the State of Missouri, all are paying for this privilege.

Thousands of Missourians are saddled with debt they cannot pay, incurred by court fees, fines, and room and board charges from jails and prisons. They’re caught up in an endless cycle of returning to court and until recently, back to jail, because they’re unable to pay the crushing debt.

The attorneys of Stecklein & Rapp provide tough and aggressive legal representation for clients in Kansas City, Missouri; Kansas City, Kansas; Lincoln, Nebraska; and clients in Colorado who have been caught in this vicious cycle. We work diligently to find relief for people choosing between paying for groceries or jail board bills. We provide guidance to people who want to make a fresh start after serving time.

Missouri’s “Pay to Stay” Law

The 1988 Missouri Incarceration Reimbursement Act (MIRA) allows the state to charge and collect payments from inmates to reimburse the state for the cost of their incarceration.

Moreover, the law allows the Missouri attorney general to garnish wages, establish and enforce payment plans, and even recover money by placing liens on the property and other assets. In fact, a state lien takes precedence over any other debt or lien. While courts can consider an inmate’s obligation for child support, spousal support, or support of other dependents, those don’t necessarily supersede the incarceration debt obligation.

Assessing Your Ability to Pay

If the state believes an inmate has assets or a revenue stream over a period of five years valued at 10% of the cost of incarceration for two years, it will attempt to collect. And it can collect up to 90% of the inmate’s assets and revenue, including government benefits, retirement benefits, pensions, even inheritances, cash gifts, and settlements of personal injury and workers’ compensation claims.

The annual cost of incarceration is roughly $22,000, so two years is $44,000. If an inmate has assets or revenue over a five-year period worth $4,400, the state will send him a bill for the full amount of the incarceration costs. Let’s say the inmate served five years. That would put the state’s bill at $110,000 and the state would be allowed to collect the full amount as long as they leave the inmate with 10% of his assets and revenue to live on. For the vast majority of inmates and those who have served their time, 10% is not enough to survive.

Supreme Court Ruling on Debtor’s Prison

In March 2019, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that board bills were not court costs and people could not be sent to jail for failing to pay them. But until the passage of House Bill 192 in July 2019, some courts were still making people who failed to keep up with restitution payments show up regularly in court and in some cases, sent them back to jail.

House Bill 192 made this type of “debtor’s prison” illegal, stopping a practice that added insult to injury. MIRA debtors who were incarcerated again for nonpayment were released with yet another jail boarding bill which only added to the amount they were expected to reimburse.

How Stecklein & Rapp Can Help

If you have been handed a bill for the cost of your incarceration, you should consult an experienced and knowledgeable attorney. Court cases brought by inmates against the state and counties seeking reimbursement are challenging MIRA. Those challenges mean enforcement of the law is constantly being reexamined and reshaped.

More debt can be devastating and keep you from even having a chance to start a new life. Missouri’s “stay and pay” law is one of the strictest incarceration reimbursement laws in the country. But that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s nothing you can do.

Stecklein & Rapp is a firm dedicated to helping people being harassed by debt collectors, whether those collectors work for a payday loan company or for the State of Missouri. We litigate fair debt collection cases and, when needed for a fresh start, help clients discharge their debt through bankruptcy.

We serve clients in Kansas City, Missouri; Kansas City, Kansas; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Colorado. If you’re struggling with “stay and pay” bills, let’s talk. Call our office today to schedule a free consultation.