Dealing with debt and prison

When a person is sent to prison, their financial problems don't automatically stop. They may need your help to deal with their debts. In an ideal world, the accused should designate a close friend or relative to act on their behalf before they commence the sentence.

You can contact their creditors for them if they’ve given their creditors permission to speak to you. If they’ve not done this, you may find their creditors can’t talk to you. If you have any joint debts, the creditor will usually contact you and expect you to make the full payments. If you live together, you’ll also find that you’ll have to cover household costs like rent or mortgage, council tax and utility bills yourself. Supporting someone in prison means extra costs to cover travel costs for prison visits, or sending money and other essential items.

Prison lending, the dark side debt

One of the first rules a new prisoner learns is to never borrow money, legal goods or contraband. In British prisons, money and the loaning or borrowing of personal items are strictly forbidden, this is to limit the number of disputes over debts. The fact that lending is forbidden simply creates a bigger market for the things that are in short supply (drugs, cigarettes, cell phones, alcohol, food and toiletries). Some basic essentials are paid for by the state (clothing, food, bedding and some toiletries) and prisoners have a mandatory cell wage of £5 per week, plus an allowance of between £4 and £25 per week, depending on their category, duties and behaviour.

Prisons are ruthless places and weakness is exploited. So if a prisoner starts to borrow, the debts can cascade as interest often means paying back double. One of the only options a prisoner has to pay his or her prison debts is to ask friends and relatives to pay the debt. This is lending without rules and the consequences for non-payment leads to coercion and violence. It is not uncommon for the cellmates, relatives and friends of prisoners to become responsible for the debt.

Double bubble

A prisoner’s expenditure falls into two basic categories: official spending via either the weekly canteen sheet and unofficial financial deals between prisoners. Selling services, gambling and selling contraband helps to fuel a massive prison black economy.  Loan sharks and tobacco barons underpin the whole covert prison economy.  A borrower can be offered terms of bubble and a half, meaning the return of the item loaned, plus 50 percent, or double bubble, which is the original loan plus the same again on top. Repayment is strictly scheduled to coincide with canteen delivery day. So as you can see, it’s easy for a prison debt to double, double again and keep doubling.

Prison charities and support groups

  • If you or a loved one is facing a prison term then the number one rule to remember is to never borrow. It’s also wise to put in place a plan to deal with any conventional debts such as loans, credit cards and utilities.
  • If prison debts are incurred by a loved one then it’s imperative that the debt is immediately dealt with, usually by making an offer to clear the debt. If a relative steps in to clear the debt then this should be a one-off event, as the debts would simply build again.
Posted in