Right now two critical deadlines loom for people in prison. We are doing everything we can to make sure they know about them.
CARES Act Payments
Back in March Congress provided "economic impact payments" of $1,200 for US Citizens and Legal Permanent Residents. You may recall getting your "stimulus check" in the spring.
Recently, a federal court ordered that people in prison are entitled to these payments. Under the court order, they must apply to the IRS in order to receive payment. Since the court's first ruling on September 24th, the Prison Society has been getting out the word to people residing in or recently released from Pennsylvania prisons.
The court ruling requires state departments of correction to distribute applications to all eligible people in state custody. All reports we have received indicate that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections distributed applications widely last week and provided staff to answer questions. We have spoken to multiple people in PA DOC custody, including at State Correctional Institutions (SCI) Dallas, Fayette, Houtzdale, and Phoenix. All report that the Department has been helpful and proactive.
The story has been different for people in county facilities. Last week we reached out to officials at all 62 county jails to ask them if they were aware of the ruling. Of the handful of county jails that replied to us, several were unaware of the ruling and were grateful for our outreach.
We continue to get out the word. Our mentoring team is working to help recently released program participants fill out applications. Partner organizations like the Philadelphia Reentry Coalition, the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, are working to increase awareness.
Voting From Prison
Many Pennsylvanians in prison or recently released from prison have the right to vote. But that doesn't mean that they know they have the right or that they have taken the necessary steps to exercise it. That's why we worked with All Voting is Local, Committee of Seventy, and VEEEM Pittsburgh to get out the word about voting from behind bars. Earlier this month, we distributed Know Your Voting Rights flyers to all county jails. We know of at least one jail, in Cumberland County, where these flyers have been posted on every housing block. In addition, we have included voting rights information in our latest edition of Graterfriends, our publication for, and largely by, people in PA DOC custody. And we've sent this information to every incarcerated person who has written to us in the past few months. Getting information to people in prison custody is never easy. Prisons are designed to keep people cut off from the world. Getting information in during the pandemic is even harder than usual. Thank you to all of our volunteers, supporters, and partner organizations who make these efforts possible. We're here to help.