Santa Rita Jail Inmates Receive Tax Preparation Assistance | News

Inmates at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin were provided access to professional tax preparation assistance this spring to ensure that eligible taxpayers, even though incarcerated, received COVID-19 economic stimulus payments approved by Congress.

The Sheriff’s Office collaborated with the Alameda County Social Services Agency (ACSSA) to provide inmates with tax assistance through the agency’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

Inmates were given a completed 1040 tax return template to use as a guide in completing their own returns and were provided access to professional help by telephone three days a week from late April through May 14.

“Many of our inmate population are unsentenced and non-convicted individuals who filed tax returns prior to incarceration,” said Sheriff Gregory Ahern. “We understand that many of our inmates are entitled to tax refunds due to COVID Relief legislation. These monies are in fact owed to our inmates just like other members of the community. This program will help support children and families while those eligible people are in custody.”

After initially issuing stimulus checks to state and federal inmates last year, the Internal Revenue Service changed its policy and began denying payments to inmates. That resulted in a class action lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, and in October 2020, then-Chief Judge Phyllis Hamilton ruled that the government could not refuse checks “solely on the basis of their incarcerated status.”

Hamilton has since taken senior status with the court.

“I view this collaboration as an extension of the work that the ACSSA’s VITA program provides to tax filers throughout the tax season,” said ACSSA Director Lori Cox. “The VITA program ensures that people who cannot afford to pay for professional tax preparation services receive services at no cost. We want to provide the same opportunity for Santa Rita inmates.”

The county said it would evaluate the pilot inmate program at the end of the tax-filing period to determine if similar services are offered or expanded next year.