Illinois AG sues former inmate to pay for incarceration

Demands payment the for the care, custody, treatment and rehabilitation provided to him by the department of corrections

By Bob Susnjara
Chicago Daily Herald

CHICAGO — Philip Snow paid his debt to society by serving four years in the state prison system for attacking a senior citizen.

Now, roughly five years since his release, the Illinois Department of Corrections wants Snow to pay $82,800, a bill that includes the care and services he received while behind bars.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (AP photo)

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (AP photo)

Although Michigan and other states have become aggressive in going after felons for their incarceration expenses, such a move is a rarity in cash-strapped Illinois.

Officials say they believe Snow is one of the few felons to have the means to pay for his time in the Joliet, Shawnee, Dixon and East Moline correctional centers. A section of the Illinois Unified Code of Corrections is being used in the attempt to get the cash from Snow.

Some advocates for prisoners question chasing them for money after release, saying it’s similar to being made to pay twice for a crime. Snow couldn’t be located for comment.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Sharyn Elman said the attorney general’s office can be notified when it’s discovered that an inmate has money that was not disclosed at the time of incarceration.

Elman said corrections officials also can alert the attorney general if they find out an inmate came into money during or after a prison stay. The attorney general then can attempt to get the money through a lawsuit for incarceration expenses.

"After a full investigation, if it is found the offender has funds to reimburse the IDOC for costs, we will follow the legal channels to acquire payment," Elman said.
"Most offenders do not have the means, but in those uncommon cases where it is discovered that they do, we will follow the code of corrections."

Neither Elman nor Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s spokeswoman, Robyn Ziegler, would say why it’s believed Snow has the money to pay.

Ziegler said the effort to get the cash from Snow is not part of a trend.

"We don’t get very many of these cases," she said. "There is no ramp-up."

Snow, 50, believed to be from Zion, was convicted of aggravated battery to a senior citizen. Lake County court documents show he was behind bars from July 5, 2001, to Aug. 12, 2005.

On Oct. 15, the attorney general’s office sued Snow in Lake County court demanding the $82,800 for the care, custody, treatment and rehabilitation provided to him by the department of corrections. As of Friday, documents were not yet filed indicating whether Snow has been served with the complaint.

"The Illinois Department of Corrections knows or reasonably believes that Philip Snow has assets that may be used to satisfy all or part of a judgment rendered against him," Assistant Attorney General James McCracken wrote in the court file.

McCracken cites the Illinois Unified Code of Corrections as the basis for the complaint against Snow. Established in 1982, part of the code says inmates are liable for their incarceration costs based on a rate determined by state prison officials.

John Maki, coordinating director of the John Howard Association of Illinois prison reform organization, agreed it’s rare for the state to seek reimbursement from felons. He said many inmates who are freed have little money and often wind up homeless.

But Maki said considering the law states all inmates are liable for their prison expenses, it doesn’t make sense for Snow to be singled out for his $82,800 tab while others don’t have to pay. He said the John Howard Association views the law as unfair.

"It’s like they’re punishing him twice," said Maki, who also questioned the public money that’ll be spent on the Snow case.

Meanwhile, Michigan is among the states that have become aggressive in gaining prisoner reimbursements through lawsuits filed by Attorney General Mike Cox. His spokeswoman, Joy Yearout, said it has become a priority for the office.

Since 2003, Yearout said, Michigan has filed more than 1,000 suits against ex-felons believed to have financial means to pay for their prison stays. She said the office has recovered more than $17 million.

"Our investigative staff works to generate and process leads on inmate assets," Yearout said.

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