Facing South

Doing time on their own dime: More states charge inmates for stays in jail, prison

Facing South
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prisonbars-749138.jpgAs the economic downturn worsens and states grapple with large budget deficits, many inmates may find themselves paying for their crimes beyond just doing standard jail time.

Due to massive state budget cuts, across the country state prison facilities are beginning to charge inmates in order to garner the funds to maintain detention services. This week The Christian Science Monitor reported that a growing number of jails and sheriffs departments are also charging inmates and raising costs for a number of items -- from snacks to room and board -- a move authorities say is necessary to counter rising costs and budget cutbacks.

Charging inmates for their own incarceration - also known as "pay-to-stay" fees - is a trend that began about 20 years ago in Alabama, and soared in popularity around the country under the "tough-on-crime" policies of the Reagan and Clinton eras. By 2004 about one-third of the county jails in the United States had policies charging inmates for their own incarceration. During that same time period more than 50% of state correctional systems also had pay-to-stay fees. Some of these fees were collected through the inmate's bank account during incarceration and others through civil litigation aimed at a prisoner's estate or properties once they were released.

The trend, while not new, is quickly gaining popularity again around the country as the recession deepens. Some counties want to charge inmates the actual cost of care per day - as much as $45 - $60 in some places. That means a year behind bars could cost an inmate more than $16,000. Besides charging inmates for room, board, clothing and other related costs, some prisons - including ones in North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida -  charge inmates every time they get written up for breaking the rules. Several states in the South also charge probationers monthly fees for seeing a probation officer.

It's already been a big year for pay-to-stay programs over all. This month lawmakers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania introduced legislation that would charge daily fees of about $10 to $15 for incarceration and electronic monitoring services. During this legislative session, Georgia lawmakers debated a measure that would have allowed state officials to collect a per diem of up to $40 from "financially capable" prisoners. One of the nation's highest prisoner tariffs, $60-a-night, was recently approved in Springfield, Oregon. Earlier this year, Maricopa County, Ariz., began charging inmates $1.25 a day for meals in the county jail. And last month in Richmond, Va., the city jail started charging inmates $1 a day to help cover the costs of their stay behind bars.

In a more controversial policy, several states also charge inmates for their medical and dental needs. In Georgia last month, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a measure into law giving state prisons more power to charge inmates for their medical costs while behind bars. This is a fee that state and county corrections officials can deduct from inmates' accounts. While several prisons around the country charge co-pays for medical procedures, prison rights advocates have argued that this is a dangerous trend. They point out that these policies not only create a system where only privileged inmates have access to care, but it also runs the risk of allowing the spread of illnesses like Hepatitis C among inmates because they are discouraged from seeking treatment.

Keeping the poor impoverished

Critics of pay-to-stay programs and prison fees say these policies place an unfair burden on the poor.

As the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights explains on their Web site:

To pay for the ever-increasing size of the criminal justice system, we are seeing more and more fees being levied against people who cannot afford them: fees for medical services, anger management classes, drug tests, police officers' funds, crime victims' funds, clerk fees, attorneys' fees, probation fees, and jail fees. A new trend is "room and board" fees in prisons and jails.

Prison rights groups underscore that it's the relatives of the inmates that end up shouldering this high financial burden. These families - often disproportionately women - are typically already impoverished and struggling to make ends meet. Critics of the pay-to-stay system argue that in essence the government is seizing the assets of some of the poorest families in the country.

As The Christian Science Monitor reported:

"It's like we're a private ATM for the corrections department and they know there's nothing we can do about it," says the wife of one inmate serving a life sentence at Florida's Martin County Correctional Institute.

The woman, who asked to remain anonymous because she feared repercussions for her husband, said she can't afford to send him more than $40 a week. But that, she claims, is quickly swallowed up by the new higher rates on essential items such as sunscreen for when he works outside tending the prison grounds.

Prison rights advocates also point out that these fees make it more difficult for prisoner's to reintegrate into society once they are free.

When asked why his county rejected the pay-to-stay policies, Deputy Tom Erickson, the sheriff's spokesman in Johnson County, Kansas, told the Christian Science Monitor: "[I]f somebody doesn't pay, what do you do? Do you issue a warrant for them, have them arrested again, put them back in jail? You've created a debtors' prison, and that's neither wanted nor needed. For us, it wasn't the right thing to do."

Kansas Rep. Pat Colloton also sees the downside in pay-to-stay policies, pointing out that these indigent inmates could end up with massive bills to pay when they leave the lockup. "Many of these individuals have a difficult time re-entering society anyway," Colloton told the The Kansas City Star. "We don't want them so burdened with debt that any legitimate attempt at re-entry is impossible and they turn back to crime to pay the fees you just imposed on them."

Modern-Day Debtors' Prisons?

Human rights and civil liberties groups are troubled by the resurgence in the popularity of pay-to-stay fees. As a result, groups have been raising questions about the legality of charging inmates for room and board.

The Southern Center for Human Rights has been following the issue closely here in the South, where some of the policies are even stranger and more convoluted. According to the SCHR, courts across the South routinely impose substantial costs on already poor people who are struggling to get by, then incarcerate them for being too poor to pay. In some parts of the region people have even been jailed for not being able to pay their court fines. One example is in Gulfport, Miss., where the municipal court started a "fine collection task force" to crack down on people who owed fees for misdemeanors.

As the SCHR reports on their Web site:

The task force trolled through predominantly African American neighborhoods, rounding up people who had outstanding court fines. After arresting and jailing them, the City of Gulfport processed these people through a court proceeding at which no defense attorney was present or even offered.

Many people were jailed for months after hearings lasting just seconds. While the city collected money, it also packed the jail with hundreds of people who couldn't pay, including people who were sick, physically disabled and/or limited by mental disabilities.

According to SCHR's 2008 report entitled "Profiting from the Poor," charging people for misdemeanors has also become an industry in Georgia:

In courts around Georgia, people who are charged with misdemeanors and cannot pay their fines that day in court are placed on probation under the supervision of private, for-profit companies until they pay off their fines. On probation, they must pay these companies substantial monthly "supervision fees" that may double or triple the amount that a person of means would pay for the same offense.

In some cases, jails in the South have charged people room and board fees even before inmates were convicted of any crime. For more than 15 years the Clinch County Jail in Homerville, Ga. charged those in its custody a daily room and board fee. Since many people were too poor to pay the fees upon their release, the county sheriff would require them to sign notes promising to pay the fees in installments, or return to jail. Following a lawsuit by the SCHR in 2006, the county was forced to repay money to several inmates who had been made to pay a $18 per-day fee for their time in custody before their conviction. One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit - Willie Williams Jr. - had been charged a $4,608 "room and board" bill for his time behind bars even though he had not yet been convicted.

In 2006, the SCHR also filed a petition on behalf of Georgia resident Ora Lee Hurley.  A court had ordered Hurley incarcerated until she paid a $705 fine for a 15-year-old drug conviction. But Hurley couldn't pay the fine because she had to pay the Georgia Department of Corrections $600 a month for room and board. Hurley spent nearly a year in prison - from a 120-day sentence -- due to her inability to pay the fine before the SCHR was able to get her released.

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re: Doing time on their own dime: More states charge inmates for

A “SINGLE VOICE PROJECT” is the official name of the petition sponsored by: The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP)

THIS PETITION SEEKS TO ABOLISH ALL PRIVATE PRISONS IN THE UNITED STATES, (or any place subject to its jurisdiction)

The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP) is a grass roots organization driven by a single objective. We want the United States government to reclaim sole authority for state and federal prisons on US soil.
We want the United States Congress to immediately rescind all state and federal contracts that permit private prisons “for profit” to exist in the United States, or any place subject to its jurisdiction. We understand that the problems that currently plague our government, its criminal justice system and in particular, the state & federal bureau of prisons (and most correctional and rehabilitation facilities) are massive. However, it is our solemn belief that the solutions for prison reform will remain unattainable and virtually impossible as long as private prisons for profit are permitted to operate in America.

Prior to the past month, and the fiasco of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Lehman Brothers, and now the “Big Three” American Automobile manufacturers, the NPSCTAPP has always felt compelled to highlight the “moral Bottom line” when it comes to corrections and privatization. Although, we remain confounded by the reality that our government has allowed our justice system to be operated by private interests. The NPSCTAPP philosophy has always been “justice” should not be for sale at any price. It is our belief that the inherent and most fundamental responsibility of the criminal justice system should not be shirked, or “jobbed-out.” This is not the same as privatizing the post office or some trash pick up service in the community. There has to be a loss of meaning and purpose when an inmate looks at a guard’s uniform and instead of seeing an emblem that reads State Department of Corrections or Federal Bureau of Prisons, he sees one that says: “Atlas Prison Corporation.”

Let’s assume that the real danger of privatization is not some innate inhumanity on the part of its practitioners but rather the added financial incentives that reward inhumanity. The same logic that motivates companies to operate prisons more efficiently also encourages them to cut corners at the expense of workers, prisoners and the public. Every penny they do not spend on food, medical care or training for guards is a dime they can pocket. What happens when the pennies pocketed are not enough for the shareholders? Who will bailout the private prison industry when they hold the government and the American people hostage with the threat of financial failure…“bankruptcy?” What was unimaginable a month ago merits serious consideration today. State and Federal prison programs originate from government design, and therefore, need to be maintained by the government. It’s time to restore the principles and the vacated promise of our judicial system.

John F. Kennedy said, “The time to repair the roof is while the sun is shinning”. Well the sun may not be shinning but, it’s not a bad time to begin repair on a dangerous roof that is certain to fall…. because, “Incarcerating people for profit is, in a word WRONG”

There is an urgent need for the good people of this country to emerge from the shadows of cynicism, indifference, apathy and those other dark places that we migrate to when we are overwhelmed by frustration and the loss of hope.
It is our hope that you will support the NPSCTAPP with a show of solidarity by signing our petition. We intend to assemble a collection of one million signatures, which will subsequently be attached to a proposition for consideration. This proposition will be presented to both, the Speaker Of The House Of Representatives (Nancy Pelosi) and the United States Congress.

Please Help Us. We Need Your Support. Help Us Spread The Word About This Monumental And Courageous Challenge To Create Positive Change. Place The Link To The Petition On Your Website! Pass It On!

The SINGLE VOICE PETITION and the effort to abolish private “for profit” prisons is the sole intent of NPSCTAPP. Our project does not contain any additional agendas. We have no solutions or suggestions regarding prison reform. However, we are unyielding in our belief that the answers to the many problems which currently plague this nation’s criminal justice system and its penal system in particular, cannot and will not be found within or assisted by the private “for profit” prison business. The private “for profit” prison business has a stranglehold on our criminal justice system. Its vice-like grip continues to choke the possibility of justice, fairness, and responsibility from both state and federal systems.
These new slave plantations are not the answer!

For more information please visit: http://www.npsctapp.blogspot.com or email: williamthomas@exconciliation.com
To sign the petition please visit: http://www.petitiononline.com/gufree2/petition.html

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

William Thomas
National Community Outreach Facilitator
The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons
P.O. Box 156423
San Francisco, California 94115

re: Doing time on their own dime: More states charge inmates for

This is pretty sad...wish there was more we can do about it. Trying to change this would take so much effort. It's almost like the old Jim Crow laws. These laws were obviously enacted to keep the impoverish impoverished. Sad, sad, sad.

re: Doing time on their own dime: More states charge inmates for

sounds great... make people think twice before doing a crime! Why should they do a crime and get three meals a day and free room and board while they watch tv!

re: Doing time on their own dime: More states charge inmates for

I agree that prisoners should not be provided free room and board while they watch T.V. In my opinion, the current prison system is not punishment. However, I believe that prisons could be much more self-sufficient and less expensive if prisoners were required to work on maintaining it and feeding themselves by tending their own gardens and animals. A reward-based program where little "luxuries" that many of us take for granted are earned, either by studying or working hard (like the rest of us)would better prepare convicted criminals for re-entry into society.

re: Doing time on their own dime: More states charge inmates for

Anonymous asks, "Why should they do a crime and get three meals a day and free room and board while they watch tv!" and thus betrays what a small premium he puts on personal liberty, to say nothing of the high regard in which he holds TV. Traditionally one "paid his debt to society" by serving out a sentence behind bars. But now that is no longer enough. Now we must pay for the privilege of paying our debt. Incredible! It's as if a slaver demanded payment from his slaves for their upkeep (and TV)! If you deprive someone of their freedom, then you become their keeper, for better or worse. But he pays most who pays last. This practice in effect doubles the penalty for even misdemeanors, saddling offenders with horrendous debts for petty crimes. It will thus breed an attitude of "shoot the works" among people so ground down by a vindictive system of justice that crime and serious crime will become the only viable means of survival. Get ready to pay, America, big time!

re: Doing time on their own dime: More states charge inmates for

That comment about it being great is simply ignorant. When you agree to a plea in court or get found guilty at a trial, if they do not impose a fine of "x" amount I fail to see how they can charge for your incarceration. How about you give inmates the ultimatum: either you pay for your incarceration or you're out on the street. THAT would be fair.

re: Doing time on their own dime: More states charge inmates for

Why should any Tax payer be responsible to keep these low life's in prison? They decided to do the crime - now they can pay for their time. We are FAR too easy on criminals, that is why there are far to many repeat offenders. Forcing inmates to pay their stay would be a step in the right direction. It's time we make things difficult for inmates - rather than easy. Once they have finished their stay - they would think twice about repeating their actions - and if they do - the second stay should be FAR more difficult and expensive!

re: Doing time on their own dime: More states charge inmates for

Remember people in jail who are being charged these fees often have not been CONVICTED of anything. Even if they are found not guilty, they are still expected to pay these fees upon being release.

re: Doing time on their own dime: More states charge inmates for

when a person goes to jale it is not of there free will and should not be exspected to pay room and board. this is not a hotel room you have no rights your in a cell whith up to fifty people. you are given a bar of soap and a place to sleep. often not even a pellow.society creates laws to protect its citisins and its their goverments obligation to pay for the proving and incarseration of the ocoused.

re: Doing time on their own dime: More states charge inmates for

Excellent point Michelle!! Thank goodness SOMEBODY on here has some intelligence.

re: Doing time on their own dime: More states charge inmates for

Yeah, real smart observation on ur part. My son did a crime all right. He BROKE INTO HIS OWN HOUSE!!! Tell you what; as long as my name is on the deed, I DARE anyone to tell me I cannot enter my house!! Watch your speech! Not all who are arrested and charged with a crime are lowlife's!!!

re: Doing time on their own dime: More states charge inmates for

Wow my son drove a car without a license to get to work every day does that make him a lowlife? far from it since he lost his job by going to jail and most of the money i put into his account gets taken by the prison so who is really paying? he needs to buy everything from soap to shampoo ect. nothing is supplied to them. so how is this sanitary and right to a 20 year old for driving a stupid car to go to work evey day? he will be walking out of jail with no job and $4,000 in debt and try to raise an 8mo old baby. wow no wonder there is so much crime people need to steel and sell drugs to make money to pay unbelieveable no wonder the middle east looks upon us the way they do we are a nation controlled by theives.

re: Doing time on their own dime: More states charge inmates for

The poor and middle class citizens of the U.S. have become a nation of sharecroppers and indentured servants without even knowing it. We are in fact a multilevel Caste System with only the top 2% living in a democratic privileged society.

re: Doing time on their own dime: More states charge inmates for

i hope and pray that all of you the sit so high up there thinking that you are untouchable never get time for something that u may or may not of done.you will get to see how wonderful our prisons really are and how wonderful the people are that are in charge .then you would really see what kind of hotel it is and how wonderful the health care really is in there and i pray that you never have to watch a love one die behind the walls with the so call wonderful health care these inmates are receiving,while family member cant do a thing to help, i am a taxes payer and i have learned so much about how our money is wasted and trust me when i tell you the state is throw money away for lazy ass workers that dont want to do there jobs.the money is not being watsed on the inmates its being wasted on the people that run the prison.