Federal prisoners who owe fines and restitution must participate in the Federal Bureau of Prisons Inmate Financial Responsibility Program (IFRP). This page answers the question: how do inmates pay restitution. Learn more about restitution in prison here.
Table of contents
- Inmate Financial Responsibility Program Overview
- Types of Restitution in Prison
- IFRP Payment Plan Computations
- Inmate Financial Responsibility Program Formula
- Benefits for Volunteering
- Sanctions for Refusing to Volunteer
- Inmate Financial Responsibility Program Consultants
Inmate Financial Responsibility Program Overview
The FBOP operates the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program (IFRP) to “encourage each sentenced inmate to meet his or her legitimate financial obligations.” 28 C.F.R. § 545.10. This program explains how inmates pay restitution orders. It is applied to all United States federal prisoners.
The program was introduced in federal prisons to support the Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982, the Victims of Crime Act of 1984, the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1987, and the Federal Debt Collection Procedures Act of 1990.
While practices differ based on the culture of the individual federal prison, the basics are the same: Prisoners owing money are required to sign a contract with their unit team outlining a set amount that is paid either monthly or quarterly. While some prisons allow inmates to pay $25 per month or quarter, other federal prisons base payment plans on the amount of money that the prisoner receives.
While inmates are not required to comply with the Inmate Financial Responsibility restitution in prison contract, they will be placed on IFRP Refusal status for doing so. This results in numerous potential sanctions. For example, a weekly $25 commissary spending limit is typically imposed.
Encouraging Inmates to Participate in the “Voluntary” Program
While this prison restitution program is deemed voluntary, inmates are reprimanded if they refuse to participate (including restricting commissary spending limits). It effectively acts as the BOP’s payment plan system. This is how inmates pay restitution in federal prison.
Inmates are “encouraged” to participate by offering contracts to those with financial obligations or debts. Through the contract, inmates agree to allow the Bureau to remove funds from their commissary account monthly or quarterly. The money is used to pay down their financial obligations.
While the IFRP restitution in prison program is “voluntary,” inmates who decline to enroll are deemed “refusal” cases. They face numerous sanctions ranging from poor classification and Parole Commission recommendations to commissary, work, and housing restrictions. They might even face exclusion from drug treatment and community-based programs.
Types of Restitution in Prison
Prisoners owing financial obligations are considered for the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program. These obligations include:
- Special Assessment Fees ($100.00 per felony and $50 per misdemeanor)
- Court-ordered restitution under the Mandatory Victim Restitution Act (MVRA) and other provisions
- Other federal court costs
- Tax liabilities
- Student Loans
- Child Support Enforcement Orders
The federal courts charge a $100 fee per felony conviction and a $50 fee for a misdemeanor conviction. This information is provided to inmates during their first unit team program review.
Only the sentencing judge can order restitution. This is usually only applied when there is a definite victim (e.g., child porn production cases, fraud cases, etc.). If an inmate’s sentencing judge didn’t order restitution, they don’t have to pay any. Federal criminal defendants don’t have to pay for the cost of their prosecution or incarceration.
While many published cases record inmates and others calling the IFRP extortion [see, e.g., Duronio v. Gonzales, 293 Fed. Appx. 155, 157 (3d Cir. 2008)], the fact that none of the sanctions implicate constitutional entitlements or liberty interests has allowed the IFRP to withstand judicial scrutiny.
After an inmate pays off all court costs and any ordered restitution, they are deemed IFRP Complete and are no longer required to make payments.
IFRP Payment Plan Computations
The IFRP process usually begins at the inmate’s initial classification at their designated institution. Unit staff will “help” the inmate develop a financial plan by offering them a payment plan based on their financial status. This plan enables inmates to pay restitution while incarcerated.
Such payments may be made on a one-time basis (for example, a $100.00 special assessment obligation) or monthly or quarterly. A $25 quarterly minimum payment is required for IFRP participation. However, this is the minimum payment.
At some facilities, inmates are “asked” to make payments of several hundred dollars a month. Significant variances in the amount requested by staff can occur depending on the region the inmate is housed in, the institution, and even the inmate’s housing unit.
Inmates who believe their unit team has assigned an unreasonable monthly or quarterly payment amount should first try speaking with their counselor. If this doesn’t work, they should speak with their unit manager. If this doesn’t resolve the matter, inmates can speak with the associate warden over housing units. If all else fails, file an administrative remedy.
Inmate Financial Responsibility Program Formula
A basic formula for inmates paying restitution computes the payment listed in the Inmate Financial Responsibility program statement.
First, staff computes “the total funds deposited into the inmate’s trust fund (commissary) account for the previous six months.” This base figure is not calculated solely from the inmate’s institutional work assignment pay. Instead, it includes all funds received regardless of their source or how they were ultimately spent.
From that six-month figure, staff must subtract the IFRP payments made by the inmate during the previous six months. They then subtract $450.00 for a phone allowance exclusion of $75.00 per month. This adjusted figure is used to calculate payments.
The Inmate Financial Responsibility Program calculation is:
[TOTAL TRUST FUND DEPOSITS] – $450 ($75 x 6) = [IFRP CONSIDERED FUNDS]
“Commensurate” Prison Restitution Payments
Commensurate payments are interpreted inconsistently by the Bureau. Inmates often misunderstand this and how they pay restitution in prison.
Some staff interprets commensurate to mean that all funds left after the computations are “available” as the basis for evaluating a monthly payment. Others simply request that inmates submit half of their work assignment pay or even the minimum payment permitted.
While staff can consider all allowable funds for restitution in prison purposes, this isn’t necessarily the case. This highly depends on the individual staff member creating the payment plan. Likewise, the prisoner’s unit team will continually revise the payment plan every six or 12 months.
The minimum payment required for IFRP participation can differ depending on the inmate’s work assignment.
Inmates other than UNICOR workers “ordinarily” must pay a minimum of $25 per quarter. UNICOR workers at pay grades 1 through 4 are required to “allot no less than 50% of their monthly pay to the payment process.” 28 C.F.R. § 545.11(b)(2).
Notably, courts have granted the Bureau unilateral discretion as to what constitutes a “commensurate” payment plan. See Bramson v. Winn, 136 Fed. Appx. 380, 381 (1st Cir. 2005), where the court upheld the Bureau’s unilateral payment determination.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that it can be fruitful for inmates to challenge IFRP determination by arguing that policy requires staff to “assist the inmate in developing a financial plan.” The idea that the Bureau’s interpretation of 28 C.F.R. § 540.10 is unreasonable and has not been litigated in a published opinion. Still. given the regulation’s language, such a challenge could be valid.
Benefits for Volunteering
Compliance with the IFRP restitution in prison program carries several distinct benefits.
For example, for parole-eligible inmates, compliance can help create a favorable parole recommendation. This benefit for old law and DC code offenders can’t be understated. This is an important reason for inmates to pay restitution orders.
Likewise, compliance can positively impact aid inmates in certain in-prison benefits. For example, this may provide a tool when seeking a better housing assignment, work performance pay raises, and eligibility to participate in community-based programs.
Sanctions for Refusing to Volunteer
While the Federal Bureau of Prisons calls the IFRP prison restitution program a “voluntary” program, it also provides a list of sanctions applicable to inmates who decline to volunteer.
These sanctions include:
- The Parole Commission is notified of participation failure.
- Furlough restrictions(except for emergency or medical furloughs).
- Restriction to the maintenance pay level and limitations on bonus and vacation pay.
- Limitation to only inside work details (i.e., restriction from any work detail outside the facility’s secure perimeter).
- Prohibition of being assigned to the UNICOR work detail.
- UNICOR inmates who fail to comply with their financial plan are removed from the work detail.
- If removed from UNICOR, inmates are restricted from reapplying for six months.
- Restriction from community-based programs (i.e., halfway house).
- Ban on any release gratuity (i.e., release funds provided to indigent inmates).
- Forfeiture of any Residential Drug Abuse Program incentives.
- Placement in the least preferable inmate housing structure.
Additionally, Inmate Financial Responsibility Program refusal status inmates are limited to spending $25 monthly in the commissary spending. The only limitation is that inmates may still purchase the following items:
- Postage Stamps
- Telephone Credits
- Kosher and Halal Commissary Items
Inmate Financial Responsibility Program Consultants
Prison officials are sometimes overzealous and force inmates to sign inappropriate prison restitution contracts. This is not the ideal approach for inmates to pay restitution. If you are experiencing this, please contact us at the Zoukis Consulting Group. You can book a one-hour initial consultation here.
Our prison policy experts will review the terms of your restitution in prison contract and Trust Fund account transactions to help you determine if your restitution in prison contract is sound. If not, we will guide you in attempting to informally correct improper IFRP contracts.
If informal resolution isn’t successful, our team will assist you in filing an administrative remedy and engage in informal advocacy with agency officials directly on your behalf. We can also petition your sentencing court to either impose a reasonable payment plan or ask for deferment of payments until your release from custody.
Published Apr 7, 2016 by Christopher Zoukis, JD, MBA | Last Updated by Christopher Zoukis, JD, MBA on May 12, 2023 at 12:08 pm