FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Critics say a new one-time fee of $25 that Arizona charges visitors to state prisons is a tax and want it declared unconstitutional.
The law, which went into effect July 20, requires visitors at 15 state prisons to pay the fee for background checks.
But the law which created the fee also directed all money collected to be deposited into a building renewal fund, to pay for repairing and maintaining Department of Corrections buildings.
The advocacy group Middle Ground Prison Reform has sued the state Department of Corrections, seeking to have the fee declared a tax and any money paid so far returned to visitors.
Donna Hamm, the group's executive director, told the Arizona Capitol Times that the state legislature "needs to stop thinking of prisoners and their families, who often are economically disadvantaged, as cash cows."
Attorneys for prison inmates are exempt from the fee, as are the foster parents of inmates' minor children and anyone under 18.
Middle Ground Prison Reform says it believes the fee is unique among states.
Corrections officials deny allegations that it targets vulnerable groups and that the fee is unconstitutional.
They say the fees will help ensure inmate safety.