Residents of a private halfway house in Colorado Springs say they struggled for weeks to access personal funds for food, medication and other necessities while their halfway house-issued checks were rejected by banks and check-cashing services.
The snag at Community Alternatives of El Paso persisted despite administrators’ promises to fix the problem and held up money that belongs to residents, who are required to hand over their paychecks and other income as a condition of their incarceration. The halfway house takes out money for rent and restitution and issues residents periodic allowances.
Remaining funds in the residents’ accounts are returned, minus any rent and restitution, after their release.
Starting in late August, CAE’s bank, Community Banks of Colorado, repeatedly refused to honor the allowance checks, but not before some residents believed they had successfully deposited them.
The resulting confusion caused some residents to overdraw their personal checking accounts, deepening their financial woes as they prepared for release, several residents told The Gazette. Others were turned away from check-cashing services, forcing them to borrow money from family members and friends to cover their expenses.
Although food is provided at CAE, many residents leave on work release and eat outside the facility, and others avoid the food that’s served, which comes from the El Paso County jail.
For Robert Thompson, the issue was the latest hurdle to obtaining a critical seizure medication while incarcerated at CAE.
After being transferred to CAE from the El Paso County jail in July, Thompson said he went two days without his daily medication. When administrators took him to an urgent care center after his repeated complaints, a provider there prescribed him half of his normal dose of 1,000 mg twice daily.
Thompson attributes his struggle over medications for contributing to seizures while in CAE custody that led to two trips by ambulance to UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central, where doctors restored his normal prescription and said his seizures could cause brain damage and even death.
“They are endangering my life,” said Thompson, 59, who estimated that up to a third of the population — about 170 people as of August — struggled to access their money.
Thompson provided receipts from Walmart and King Soopers showing that his CAE checks were rejected by check-cashing services at a time he said he needed to refill his prescription. He contacted CAE and eventually managed to get the check cashed on a return trip and purchased a refill two days before running out.
He said Walmart and King Soopers had so many problems with checks from CAE that they stopped accepting them.
In a memo posted Sept. 23 at CAE, and obtained by the newspaper, administrators instructed inmates not to cash checks issued between Aug. 20-Sept. 22, citing a “system error at the bank.”
Two other residents said they had checks returned prior to that period, and receipts examined by the newspaper showed problems continued afterward.