Pay-to-stay

In the spirit of my previous posts arguing in favor of charging wrongfully convincted prisoners for room and board comes this news from Oregon:

First, Sheriff Tim Evinger eliminated ketchup, salt, coffee and pepper at the jail, a move he says saved an instant $30,000 a year in runaway beverage and condiment costs. Now, Evinger has decided to start charging inmates $60 a day to help cover the costs of their stay behind bars.

"My constituents expect me to use whatever means I have to keep the jail open to its full extent," the sheriff said.

It is an idea that first surfaced about 15 years ago in Alabama, and has since spread rapidly across the country, to about one-third of the county jails in the United States.

In some places, inmates are charged for their stay while they are still behind bars; other places bill them after they get out.

But increasingly, prison researchers dismiss such "pay-to-stay" plans as political grandstanding, citing the difficulty and expense of actually collecting anything from inmates and the ethics of such practices.

"If you go after people who owe you money on room and board or whatever, you will end up paying more money for the bill collector than you can ever collect for these people," said Ken Kerle, editor of American Jails magazine. "Holding inmates is a government responsibility, whether government likes it or not." ...

Pay-to-stay at the Klamath County jail does not kick in until the inmates get out. They are asked whether they can afford to pay in full, would like to go on a payment plan, or are unable or refuse to pay for their stay.

Those who choose options C or D are taken to small-claims court, where a judge can dismiss the case by finding that the inmate has no ability to pay. If a judge finds otherwise, however, the inmate's taxes and wages will be attached.

"I will have the ability to forgive some debt to someone who has really turned their life around," Evinger said. "We don't want to take food out of families' mouths."

Sam King, 44, who is serving time in Klamath County for assault, said most of his fellow inmates have lined up against the idea.

"The taxpayers are already paying for us to be here," King said. "Why should we have to pay on top of that? It's a crock. How do you get blood out of a turnip? These guys don't have any money."

But 42-year-old George Booth, who is in for violating his probation on a drug offense, said he plans to go on the $20-a-month payment schedule when his time is up.

"I messed up my probation," Booth said. "Who is responsible for myself? I am. Who pays your rent on the outside? Does the sheriff come around and pay your rent? I pay taxes, and I think we shouldn't be pumping so much money into correctional facilities. We should put it back into the elementary school system."

Whatever your thoughts may be on charging wrongfully convicted prisoners for room and board, it makes even more sense to charge the guilty for their prison expenses. Why should taxpayers be forced to pay for other people's crimes? Ideally, prisoners should be forced to work while in prison to pay off the costs of their confinement, rather than impose an additional burden upon them when they are released.

Share this

"make the guilty pay"? haha

"make the guilty pay"? haha i'd love to see the Tim Robbins/Susan Sarandon movie about that one. ...giant corporation takes over state prisons as a profit center for greedy and evil white men to use thier cheap labour to fire union workers and replace nuclear plant technicians with innocent murderers just caught up in a web of southern racism and bad luck. along the way the antagonist learns about how minorities have real soul and saves his own humanity and maybe, just maybe, he can see how the world needs more love and can get the minority protagonist to show him how to love his estranged wife and son again...... sob sniffle sob snort....booohoooo....

I'm of the opinion, based on

I'm of the opinion, based on my reading of David Friedman, that inefficient punishments like imprisonment and execution should be expensive for the government. Otherwise, there's too much incentive to "lock 'em up and throw away the key." Ideally, the cost to the government of locking someone up should be exactly the same as the cost to the person being locked up. That way, the government will lock someone up only if the marginal benefit to society is greater than the cost to the person imprisoned.

(I'm sure you can correct me if I've got my economics wrong here, Micha.)

This is especially true when a large portion of those imprisoned are being held for things that shouldn't be crimes in the first place, such as drug crimes.

The problem is, imprisonment

The problem is, imprisonment isn't expensive for the "government" - it is expensive for taxpayers. I'm not sure what kind of mechanism would be necessary to provide the proper incentive to prosecuters to levy only efficient punishment. Other than privatizing the entire criminal justice system, of course.

On second thought, insofar

On second thought, insofar as taxpayers/voters choose which acts deserve criminal prosecution (e.g. drug related crimes), it does make sense to attach some cost to these decisions. In other words, if people really want to treat drug use, distribution and possession as crimes, they must realize that this entails a cost, both in terms of higher taxes and diverting police and prosecuters away from crimes with real victims.

I'm just not confident that the political mechanism provides any real incentive for people to weigh the costs and the benefits of criminalizing certain kinds of behavior. If, instead of voting, people actually had to pony up their own money directly, I doubt that most people would be willing to pay to put drug users and sellers in prison.

I think that the reason

I think that the reason people vote to lock up drug users/exchangers is that they don't have to "pay" the full price for it, since the taxation comes from everyone, not just those voters that support that particular policy.

Taxation subsidizes wasteful imprisonment.

?make the guilty pay?? haha

?make the guilty pay?? haha i?d love to see the Tim Robbins/Susan Sarandon movie about that one.

there already is a movie about that one. it's called brazil.