32,000 Michigan prisoners received millions in COVID-19 stimulus checks

It wasn't just workers and families that got a piece of the coronavirus relief pie. About 32,000 Michigan prisoners received payouts during the pandemic. 

Some don't feel like they deserve it and others have sent that money to their families. But according to Michigan Department of Corrections Spokesperson Chris Gautz, that money is also fueling drugs in the state's prisons.

"That is something we are worried about. Our strongest position is we know any influx of cash into the prison system is going to turn into an ability or option for prisoners to want and try to bring drugs into the facility," said Gautz.

The money that prisoners received added up to about $500 on average. But some prisoners, even murders facing life sentences could be getting thousands of dollars. 

Last year, the IRS stopped all payments to prisoners after the first stimulus bill. But a class-action lawsuit in California proved there was no law on the books preventing a prisoner from receiving Covid relief funds. 

"Some (prisoners) certainly feel they shouldn't get it and shouldn't be entitled to it. If Congress felt that way and if there was a lot of outrage from Congress about why prisoners were getting these checks - but in subsequent bills they wrote for the second and third installments of stimulus checks, they didn't change the laws," said Gautz.

There is a catch to prisoners that do receive funds. If someone incarcerated owes back taxes, restitution, or child support, MDOC is flagged and money is redirected to the courts.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is also going after that money to pay for a prisoner's "cost of care."

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In a statement from her office, she said "By law, MDOC prisoners are subject to mandatory collection actions in an effort to recoup the cost of incarceration paid for by the taxpayers. Of the approximately 32,000 people currently in state prisons, the Attorney General has only filed about 125 cases involving prisoner stimulus funds."

"However, those actions were taken due to the total resources the prisoner had available," it added.

Three stimulus checks have gone out since federal relief starting coming in: $1,200, $600, and $1,400.

But with potential for more drugs in the system, MDOC is stepping up inmate surveillance. 

"We are always monitoring for that - we are doing a lot more searches now in our facilities for contraband," said Gautz.