One Crisis Away: The Price of Prison | KERA News

One Crisis Away: The Price of Prison

Allison V. Smith / KERA news special contributor

Incarceration decimates wealth. That's the central theme KERA's Courtney Collins explored for the last month in the series, One Crisis Away: The Price of Prison.

After serving 20 years in prison, Ed Ates savors life at home with his wife, Kim Ates.
Allison V. Smith for KERA

Two decades in prison is a long time to go without a paycheck. For parents, that's also 20 years of missed childhood moments. Edward Ates feels the full weight of those losses, especially since he's maintained his innocence since day one. 

"Paying your debt to society by being incarcerated is just a simple myth," says Toby Savitz, ex-offender and director of programs at Pathfinders
Allison V. Smith for KERA

After serving two years in prison for possession of meth, Toby Savitz found herself in a series of low-paying jobs with no real path forward. She finally kicked the door open after landing a position at a nonprofit that helps ex-offenders like her. But she admits there aren’t enough jobs like hers to go around.

Marc Wilson standing outside the George L. Allen, Sr. Courts Building in downtown Dallas on Sept. 10, 2019. Much of the child support debt he racked up in prison has been reduced. But he's still far behind, and relief is tempered by feelings of guilt.
Allison V. Smith for KERA

Prison makes it nearly impossible to hold onto savings and earn money. But it's a great place to take on debt.

Before prison, Marc Wilson was set up to pass on wealth-building opportunities to his children and grandchildren, like a house and tuition help.
Allison V. Smith for KERA

When people go to prison, income dries up and earning potential rockets backward.

And when you mix incarceration with America's legacy of systemic racism, an ex-offender's ability to hand off wealth to the next generation is an even heavier struggle.

Marc Wilson's personal wealth decreased significantly after serving a seven-year prison sentence for drug trafficking. "I'm starting from scratch, you know?"
Allison V. Smith for KERA

As a father, Marc Wilson had his family firmly in the middle class. Then a drug conviction sent him to prison for seven years. 

Nearly half the people admitted to state prisons in the U.S. are there because of violations of probation or parole, according to a new nationwide study that highlights the personal and economic costs of the practice.

The Council of State Governments Justice Center said the majority of these violations are for "minor infractions," such as failing a drug test or missing a curfew. Those so-called technical violations cost states $2.8 billion every year, the report says.

Christopher Connelly / KERA News

Nearly two weeks after publishing a letter to the residents of Dallas County outlining a broad reform agenda, newly minted District Attorney John Creuzot is still dealing with criticism over a petty theft policy. Despite the attention, though, Creuzot's approach to theft is unlikely to be his most impactful reform. 

Christopher Connelly / KERA News

If a poor person steals food or diapers or other essential items that they need but can’t afford to pay for, should they be prosecuted? Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot says no.

How The Misdemeanor System Intensifies Inequality

Jan 17, 2019
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By definition, misdemeanors are relatively minor crimes. However, the misdemeanor system is so large, it includes a wide spectrum of offenses.

VIDEO: Learning To Become A Businessman Behind Bars

Dec 21, 2018
Kelsey Murrow as he pitches his business plan to visiting business executives at Sanders Estes Unit State Prison in Venus, Texas.
Screenshot of video by Thorn Anderson

Watch Kelsey Murrow as he completes nine months of business training with the Prison Entrepreneurship Program at Sanders Estes Unit State Prison in Venus, Texas, preparing for his release from incarceration.

MICHAEL COGHLAN / FLICKR

Brick-and-mortar debtors’ prisons were once common in the United States, locked institutions where people were sent to work off unpaid debts. 

Allison V. Smith / KERA News Special Contributor

When John Creuzot takes office in January as Dallas County district attorney, he promises to usher in a new era of prosecution.

Shutterstock

The recognition of a wrongful conviction is meant to fix an injustice, but it also creates upheaval in the lives of the accused and the victims.

Christopher Scott, wrongfully convicted of murder in Dallas, was exonerated in 2009. He spent 12 years in prison.
Allison V. Smith

The statistics are startling: If you’re a black man in America, you’re five times as likely to go to state prison as a white man. Latinos and African Americans make up one-third of the U.S. population; they make up two-thirds of the prison population.

You can’t talk about incarceration without talking about race. Christopher Scott knows that too well.

Chainnaron Soeurn at Hutchins State Jail on Aug. 15, 2018.
Thorne Anderson

A lot of people see prison as the last resort — the ultimate thing to avoid. Then there's Chainnaron Soeurn. After he was released, the struggle to pay the costs of probation was so tough that he chose to go back behind bars.

Stanley Walington, 38, with his girlfriend Lynette Sherman, 24, and their children Honesty, 1; Promiss, 3; and Stanley Jr., 2; in their apartment in Fort Worth. Walington was recently released from Buster Cole State Jail in Bonham, Texas.
Allison V. Smith

Calculating the exact cost of time behind bars is almost impossible. The meter starts running at the moment of arrest, and doesn’t stop after someone’s released. From lawyer fees to jail calls to probation, going away is expensive. Just ask 37-year-old Stanley Walington, a father of five.