Prison Cost Crisis Solved: Make the Inmates Pay

| Thu Aug. 13, 2009 8:49 AM EDT

Facing big budget cuts, hard-pressed state prison officials have come up with a new way of paying for operating costs: charging inmates for room and board, health care and other amenities, according to USA Today. The money generally comes from prisoners’ families, many of whom are extremely poor.
In Arizona's Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, Sheriff Joe Arpaio humiliates prisoners by making them wear pink underwear and forcing them to sleep outdoors in 100 degree heat. Reports USA Today: "Earlier this year, he announced that inmates would be charged $1.25 per day for meals. His decision followed months of food strikes staged by convicts who complained of being fed green bologna and moldy bread."
Below the jump, some other examples cited by the paper:
 

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*In Iowa's Des Moines County, where officials faced a $1.7 million budget hole this year, politicians considered charging prisoners for toilet paper—at a savings of $2,300 per year. The idea was ultimately dropped, after much derision.
*A New Jersey legislator introduced a bill similar to New York's, this one based on fees charged by the Camden County Correctional Facility, which bills prisoners $5 a day for room and board and $10 per day for infirmary stays—totaling an estimated $300,000 per year.
*In Virginia, Richmond's overcrowded city jail has begun charging $1 per day, hoping to earn as much as $200,000 a year. In Missouri's Taney County, home to Branson, the sheriff says charging inmates $45 per day will help pay for his new $27 million jail.
"The overwhelming number of people who end up in prison are poor,"  Elizabeth Alexander, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project, told the paper.. "The number of times in which these measures actually result in a lot of money coming in is very small."
"It's the spouses, children and parents who pay the fees. They are the people who contribute to prisoners' canteen accounts," said Sarah Geraghty of the Southern Center for Human Rights, which successfully opposed an effort earlier this year in Georgia to bill prisoners $40 per day.

A recent Vera Institute of Justice survey (pdf) of 33 states found that 23 have slashed funding for corrections this year, according to Stateline.org:

Corrections is the fifth-largest area of state spending after Medicaid, secondary education, higher education and transportation. State spending on prisons has swelled as the nation’s jail and prison population has climbed to 2.3 million people, or about one in every 100 adults. But grim budget realities are forcing state lawmakers’ hand.