JPMorgan Chase & Co’s contract to give debit cards to inmates released from federal prisons has flopped following a complaint from a former convict.
The bank won a government contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 2008 to provide former inmates of all federal prisons across the US with a prepaid, non-refillable debit card which they can use to access their earnings or money sent while in jail.
However, according to a class-action lawsuit against the New York-based bank, it pressed inmates with a series of unfamiliar and excessive charges.
Ken Grunfeld, attorney at Golomb & Honik, the Philadelphia law firm which led the class action, said that the program was a ‘take it or leave it’ struggle. “Talk about a captive audience; these people had to take this card, or their money would be denied to them.
Added Charges, Fees
Former inmates complained that they were not permitted to review or approve the terms and conditions attached to the cards, which were much harder than those of regular clients. For instance, former convicts are ripped off $10 to withdraw money from a teller window, which is a free service offered to regular cardholders.
They are also charged a $2 fee for using non-network ATMs.
JPMorgan’s retail banking arm, Chase, would charge them $24.50 to replace a lost card, multiplied five times the regular fee, and would charge $1.50 if the account as inactive for a month.
Even merely checking the account balance has a charge—a fee of 45 cents, an estimated equivalent of two hours of labor inside.
The contract, according to the complaint, was a ruse “to exploit one of the most vulnerable groups imaginable—releasees from federal corrections facilities. Every cent counts for federal releasees who are coming out of prison without an immediate means of income.”
The lawsuit was led by Jesse Krimes, an artist jailed in 2009 for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. After his release to a halfway house almost six years after, with about $250, he was disappointed to see the added charges on his first Chase statement. Krimes said he was not notified of the fees.
“Everything about the federal prison system is designed to grind you into hopelessness,” he described. “Coming home and trying to piece together a stable life, to have this very wealthy bank preying on you, was just unconscionable.”
JPMorgan on the lawsuit
According to a filing on Monday in Philadelphia’s federal court, the biggest US bank by assets had agreed to release $446,822 to compensate thousands of former convicts. JPMorgan also agreed to pay as much as $250,000 for the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees and costs.
The settlement will return the fees charged to the ex-prisoners under the contract—charges that the bank couldn’t even justify in court.
“It’s unclear what, if anything, these fees are tethered to in terms of cost or administration of the program,” said plaintiffs’ attorney David Stanoch. “It’s simply money sitting there and not requiring Chase to do anything.”
JPMorgan refused to comment on the lawsuit filed last September 2015, and neither on the debit card program which started in 2012.
Meanwhile, a person informed on the fee schedule said that Chase has begun ignoring the charges related with the project in the recent weeks.
The US Department of Treasury, which awarded the bank the contract, was not available for an immediate remark.
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