Old saying: If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.
New saying: If you can’t pay for the time, don’t do the crime.
Straddling the intersection of recession and responsibility, a Missouri county prosecutor wants to start charging local jail inmates $45 a night for room and board, saying “It doesn’t make sense that our citizens should have to pay for the irresponsible behavior of others in these tough economic times”
In cash-strapped municipalities across the US, a pay-to-stay trend has emerged behind bars, shifting costs from taxpayers to the convicted. Salt Lake County Metro Jail is charging inmates $40 for each day spent in lock-up. At the new Springfield, Oregon lockup, convicted prisoners will be dinged $60 a night. And a county jail in Iowa even considered making inmates pay for toilet paper.
“If they are in jail, they should be responsible for their own expenses,” says one law enforcement official. “Once you start looking at things, you’re like ‘Why haven’t we thought of this before?’” A county sheriff says, “When they’ve been found guilty of a crime, they’re ordered to pay restitution back to their victims. Why shouldn’t they pay restitution back to the taxpayers?”
Critics of such plans warn that saddling inmates with big bills for jail housing could backfire. “Many of these individuals have a difficult time re-entering society anyway,” one said. “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.”
“Really,” said a law professor, “it’s a poor person’s tax.”
Tell us what you think: Should people convicted of a crime be forced to pay the costs of their jail stay? If there was no recession, should they pay? Do we as taxpayers have a responsibility to cover the costs of running our jails?