LANSING (WWJ) – A bill in Lansing would force inmates to pay sales tax on prison purchases for the first time in more than 40 years.

It’s not clear why prisoners were exempted when the bill was passed in 1971, but ending the exemption would mean an $500,000 a year for the state.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 93 to 13 in January and is expected to get a vote in the state Senate soon.

The Senate Fiscal Agency said part of the funds generated would go toward the School Aid Fund and local governments before going into the general fund.

Critics of the bill say it’s not fair to target prisoners, who already make very little money and can’t vote. Supporters say lawbreakers shouldn’t get a tax break.

WWJ Lansing Bureau Chief Tim Skubick said the move wouldn’t generate a lot of revenue for the state, but lawmakers are saying it’s a “fairness issue.”

“So, if you’re in the slammer and you’re working and you’re making money, you’re going to pay sales tax along with everybody else,” said Skubick.

Several people called the WWJ Listener Comment Line at 248-455-7230, and their reactions were mixed. Here are just some of the comments we received:

“Isn’t that what’s meant by paying your debt to society?”

“Taking sales tax from a prisoner making 17 cents an hour is ridiculous.”

“If I have to pay, they’ve got to pay.”

“Inmates make between 45 cents to $1.00 an hour and you want them to pay sales tax? No.”

“Us hard-working citizens are paying taxes to keep them in prison.”

“They lost their rights when they did the crime.”

“You want to make it more difficult on these guys in jail who already have a hard enough time to feed themselves? These guys just need help.”

“I’m not trying to stick up for them, but they have no money.”

“Prisoners should pay double tax. Instead of six percent, charge them 12 percent.”

“Any money they have is minimal, they have a lot of burden.”

“They should not even be able to work in jail. I’m almost ready to go to jail so I can get a free meal.”

How do you feel about the issue? Leave your comments below.

Comments (5)
  1. Katzie says:

    Why NOT PAY?? They have TV, meals, clothing, bedding, toiletries, which WE the TAXPAYER supply. When they go to court it is the TAXPAYERS who pay for the attorney if they cannot afford one. TAX them. it will contribute to their “amenities”. Our government cannot even supply these “amenities” to our troops overseas who are WELL DESERVING citizens.

  2. Kara says:

    Yes they should fall under the same taxation rules the rest of us do.

  3. Jim says:

    But Kwame could not afford such an expense! At least according to himself. I’m just sayin’!

  4. zedman says:

    The jail commisary just rounds off the price anyway, so it probably costs more there.. Just keep it simple, Take the tax in the price.
    And, ‘Katzie’, I hope you go to jail someday.

  5. Ruby Smith says:


    It’s not the inmates who will have to pay but their already financially strapped families who are suffering beyond what anyone who doesn’t have a loved one in prison can imagine.

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