Paying for the Privilege of Jail?

The authority that oversees the local jail is considering charging inmates for their stay, Liesel Nowak reports in today’s Daily Progress. There are enough Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail board members that are concerned about the proposed $1/day fee that the proposal has been tabled, though it may still happen. Board member and Charlottesville Sheriff Cornelia Johnson counts herself as an opponent, pointing out that it’s not the inmates that end up paying, but their families, which is particularly harsh if the inmate is the primary breadwinner. Note, too, that this is a jail, not a prison — many inmates haven’t been convicted of any crime.

23 thoughts on “Paying for the Privilege of Jail?”

  1. I’m not surprised this has been proposed. I’ve heard in news reports from other parts of the country that this sort of thing is being implemented. As conservative as I may sound sometimes, I think it’s a very bad idea. Even if the person in Jail isn’t the primary breadwinner it’s still pretty harsh. And as Sheriff Johnson pointed out the people that end up paying, when someone ends up in jail, are their families.

    At jails in larger metropolitian areas, in addition to the money from collect calls to family, they make the inmates pay for their own soap, shaving equipment, and toothpaste. Which they must purchase from the jail “store” via accounts the jail maintains for each inmate. Fundage provided of course by the inmates friends or family, and which the inmate only ever recieves half because whatever amount is deposited the Jail takes 50 percent off the top. Additionally the items cost much more than you or I would pay for them, and are basically “travel size” (small).

    If the concept of jail is to punish and reform then someone who’s been to jail, has served their time and is being released doesn’t need to be saddled with additional debt on top of all the other disadvantages they’ve already placed on themselves.

    I’m not for coddling them, but I think even with people who are sent to jail there should be a limit. For me charging them rent is past that limit.

    And Waldo makes a good point with the Cville Jail when he points out “many inmates haven’t been convicted of any crime.”

  2. When I first read about this, two thoughts immediately struck me:

    1) The costs of collecting such a petty amount of money would hardly make it worth bothering.
    2) Provided that this charge were only levied on convicted persons, it defies logic that we can’t think of anything semi-profitable to do with grown adults that might generate more than a dollar a day. Surely there is something more creative to do with the collective labor pool of our incarcerated population than to dock them a dollar a day in order to recover costs.

  3. This is disgusting. Most of these people have not been convicted of crimes. They usually languish in jail *because* they have no money. Otherwise they would have posted bail and gone about their lives while they wait for trial. Wheras if someone like me is wrongly accused of a crime, I’ve got enough money to make bail and hire a lawyer. This is a proposal that punishes the poor for being poor.

    Everyone on the Jail Board who supports this should resign in shame.

  4. I’ll reserve my full opinion until I see a breakdown of just who will be charged. I’ve got a lot of questions. What does a “day” constitute? Is someone charged for a day for being locked up overnight? Who is really being charged? Undergrads? Breadwinners? Truly innocent breadwinners? Or perhaps the officials in charge have noticed a lot of “repeat customers”? I reckon it could be possible that some folks get locked up for the sake of having a roof over their head and 3 square meals a day.

    And let’s be honest, jail or no jail, the inmate would probably be spending a dollar a day for food. So to say that having to pay for something he/she would be paying for otherwise is an unnecessary expense is ludacris. The major impediment to he/she being able to take care of his/her family (if he/she has one) is their incarceration, and not a $1/day fee.

    So before we storm the jail headquarters, yelling “Rabble! Rabble! Rabble!” a more thorough understanding of the underlying situation and consequenes is fully warranted.

  5. And let’s be honest, jail or no jail, the inmate would probably be spending a dollar a day for food.

    Yes, but while the inmate is in jail, s/he is unemployed, which is why the family ends up having to bear that burden.

  6. Yeah, I covered that.

    The major impediment to he/she being able to take care of his/her family (if he/she has one) is their incarceration, and not a $1/day fee.

  7. Right, but why add to the burden? It doesn’t make sense. Why not dispatch a guard to the homes of the inmates each day to give every family member a swift kick in the shins?

  8. Like I said in the outset, I want more information on the whole system. Let’s understand the true nature of the debate before we make a decision.

    Instead of assuming that everyone being charged this fee is (a) poor, (b) employed, (c) has a family, and (d) innocent; let’s get the facts.

    And to avoid hurting their families, we could even let them out of jail so they can maintain their jobs. Heck, we shouldn’t even have them in jail to begin with. Better yet, we can PAY their families (and like I said before — IF THEY HAVE THEM) while the accused remain in custody.

  9. Nobrainer,

    People are not throwing themselves into jail in Charlottesville for the fun of it. If someone is homeless and hungry there are soup kitchens and programs like PACHEM to feed them. Additionally, I’m having trouble imagining how we would expect someone so destitute as to throw himself into jail deliberately to ever come up with the money to cover his incarceration. What are you going to do to him if he doesn’t have the money? Throw him in jail? You’d be talking about people with no fixed address to even send a bill to.

    And have you ever seen what passes for food in a jail? It is in no way what anyone would choose to be eating and no person who has not been convicted of a crime should be forcibly compelled to pay for it.

    My father volunteers at the jail once a week to work with inmates and I’ve heard enough stories about women banging on their cell doors for hours on end and begging the guards for toilet paper because they’ve already gone through their quota. Silly them for having to take a shit.

    I spent a night in jail once when I lived in Richmond. There were guys there who’d been offered bail at a measly $100 by a judge 3 weeks earlier but didn’t have a dime to their names. They’d been brought in for loitering or public drunkeness or smoking pot or whatever and had no way out. They have no idea whats happening or when they can leave. A public defender is assigned and they never even talk to the guy until their court date because the county charges several dollars an hour for collect calls and the lawyers won’t take the calls.

    You know why I got out the next day and they stayed in for a month? Because I was a comparatively rich white kid and they were poor.

    I can tell you the “underlying situation and consequences” because I’ve been in there and seen it. Poor people get crapped on because they have no money for bail and lawyers while rich people walk out a few hours after they have their picture taken.

    I’m not saying that criminals should not be punished. Of course they should – I think that violent criminals don’t get sentences that are nearly long enough. But jail is different. Jail and prison are 2 different things. Jail is where people go before they have been tried. Our Constitution says that people are innocent until proven guilty. Thus it is totally inappropriate to impose conditions on jail inmates which amount to punishment or fines – and what you appear to be endorsing constitutes a fine. The purpose of jail is to keep people from fleeing while they are awaiting trial and occasionally to protect society from someone likely be an immediate danger. This is a good institution to have, but we must not allow it to amount to a punishment. Imposing daily fines constitutes a punishment and calling it a fee does not change that reality.

  10. It’s interesting that they’re considering this since a county in south Georgia just lost a federal lawsuit over a similar policy; see this story from MSNBC. The county was ordered to pay back about $27,000 from years of collecting “room and board” from jailed inmates.

  11. Cecil picked up on the story I was going to bring up; these policies strike me as thoroughly unconstitutional – it is a fine without due process of law. It’s a fine because the government imposes it as a non-optional “fee” for using their jail. It doesn’t really matter who it impacts – just because some rich undergrad’s parent’s can afford the “fee” for “housing” their drunk-in-pulblic spawn for 8 hours doesn’t make this OK. If you are innocent, and jailed awaiting trial or the magistrate for bail, you still pay this “fine”. I suppose it could pass constitutional muster if there was a clause they couldn’t charge you unless you were found guilty, but even then, the questionable policy of putting people into a permanent state of indentured servitude (like the credit card companies like to do) is still there.

    We got rid of debtor’s prison for exactly the catch-22 that Jack and Waldo mention.

  12. I have worked in jails and in a prison for nearly 20 years, I say make the convicts pay! Alot of times, the victims rights are forgotten in cases where someone is incarcerated. Please don’t ever let that be forggotten. A convict needs to take resposibility for his actions, not blame it on others or other things. It takes a fair amount of $$$ to incarcerate someone, that whole burden should not be placed on the taxpayers. Jail is not supposed to be a pleasant place to be anyway, so give these convicts some incentive to a) not come back, and b) live a lawful life as they’re supposed to. I am not saying to make it inhumane for them while incarcerated, but make it tough for them.

  13. I’m missing something here: troy_43 says “make the convicts pay”, but from the earlier discussion it doesn’t sound like there are any convicts in a jail. The convicts are all in prison.

    Also, he mentions “victims rights”, but I don’t get that. I had seen a statistic somewhere that around half of all those locked up didn’t even cause anyone to be a victim. They just use illegal drugs.

  14. I don’t think you’re missing anything, insomniac; I think it’s troy_43 who is missing something.

  15. Charging inmates a dollar a day sounds dumb to me but it may be appropriate. Jail is, and should be, an unpleasant experience. some people do learn from punishment and then make an effort to stay out of trouble after their release. Charging all the inmates is very wrong since some have not been tried.

    If they are going to charge them I think they ought to give the inmates an opportunity to work picking up trash and cleaning city streets.

    Here’s a paragraph from the jails web page describing the jails mission:

    To detain both pre-sentenced and sentenced inmates from the Albemarle, Charlottesville and Nelson jurisdictions who present a physical threat to the community or themselves, sentenced to jail , or a risk of not appearing for court hearings.  The facility will be maintained and operated to safely and securely house individuals lawfully arrested and charged with a criminal offense by law enforcement agencies supporting the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.  In addition to housing local inmates, the facility may accept federal and state inmates and on a temporary basis.

  16. Have to agree a charge is a dumb,unfair idea. What if they don’t have the money? Can’t see how their family could be held legally responsible, if the inmate is an adult.
    2 Suggestions” First, put inmates to work so they can earn their keep, saw where Danville does that with certain offenders convicted of minor offenses. Second, more use of release without bail money for nonviolent misdemeanor offenses. Why keep them locked up? Bad checks, pot possession,traffic charges-that sort of thing. Seem to recall OAR used to really push that.

  17. I think the whole gang who take the view of “make the inmates pay” would sing a very different tune if they wound up in jail for even a weekend while innocent.

    For the convicted (some of whom are serving their sentences in county jails rather than state or federal penitentiaries), we already have a very long tradition of prison labor – I don’t know about you all, but my personal desk (at home) was made by VCE (Virginia Correctional Enterprises) – that would be inmate labor. The convicts do not directly pay for their incarceration, but they do receive vastly suppressed wages, with employers paying below market rates and the correctional system skimming a healthy percentage.

    The interesting question raised by Troy_43 is: who should we remember when the convict and victim are the same? What happens when the perp/victim is a non-violent drug addict busted for possession (as opposed to theft)?

  18. Y’all need to realize that if your are convicted in court and sentenced to jail or prison, you are a convict. I will agree that all in jail may not be a convict at that time, but most have either been convicted of something else in the past or will be in the future. If you think that the people in jail are only in there for illegal drugs, you are sadly mistaken. If you live your life as you should, you will likely never have to be incarcerated in a jail and worry with any of this. Some of you liberals out there should learn what really goes on inside the walls of a jail or prison. These people have violated the rights of others by, stealing property from individuals and businesses, selling drugs to our children, and many other illegal activities. They are not there for singing loudly in church. Most of these people can change their lives around and live a lawful lifestyle if they want to, as I have seen some who did, but most don’t seem to want to make the changes needed to do so, and I have honestly tried with many of them since the early 80’s.

  19. I will agree that all in jail may not be a convict at that time, but most have either been convicted of something else in the past or will be in the future.


    I’m speechless.

  20. Troy_43,
    “Most have been convicted” but not all and not all are always guilty. I know, from first hand experience, that there have been innocent people in our local jail as well as guilty ones awaiting trial. It is true that many of the “guests” at the jail are guilty and do deserve what they get. Punishment for the guilty is reasonable and it is an effective deterent for some. Punish the innocent and then there will be less punishment for the guilty and they won’t get what they deserve.
    Kevin Cox

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