Crime doesn’t pay, but criminals just might.
That is what more and more local governments are hoping, as they grapple with soaring prison populations and budget pressures.
To help cover the costs of incarceration, corrections officers and politicians are more frequently billing inmates for their room and board, an idea popular with voters.
Here in suburban Macomb County, 25 miles north of Detroit, Sheriff Mark Hackel has one of the most successful of these programs in the nation. Last year, the sheriff’s department collected nearly $1.5 million in what are being called “pay to stay” fees from many of the 22,000 people who spent time in the county jail.
Inmates are billed for room and board on a sliding scale of $8 to $56 a day, depending on ability to pay [TC: hey, that’s price discrimination!]. When they are released, the sheriff’s office will go to court to collect the unpaid bills, seizing cars or putting some inmates back in jail. The wife of one inmate, a Chrysler truck factory worker who is serving half a year for drunk driving, dropped off a check for $7,212 this week to cover part of his bill, the largest single amount ever collected by the sheriff.
I’m not comfortable with this notion, since I don’t think government prisons should move toward becoming profit centers. And ex post, elasticity of demand is not very high. But now more than half of the states are collecting fees of some kind from their prisons. It is noted, however, that Martha Stewart will not be paying for her time in jail.
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