Sheriff Thomas Hodgson in Dartmoth, Ma., took away inmates’ weights and pull-up bars and rolled television sets out of sight. He banned smoking – and imposed a daily $5 room-and-board fee for the 1,000-some prisoners. The Christian Science Monitor says the sheriff equates himself to being “the tough-love parent.” But Bristol County House of Correction inmates have filed a class-action suit claiming that the “cost of care” charges are unconstitutional. The case could affect how other sheriffs across the state set fees in county jails – from haircut costs to medical co-pays.
“Pay to stay” fees have soared in popularity across the nation in the past 15 years, as budgets have shrunk amid “get tough on crime” rhetoric. Some counties charge the actual cost of care per day – $60 in some states. Experts estimate that a third of the nation’s 3,000-some county jails levy room-and-board fees. In state correctional systems, 53 percent attach the fees, says the American Correctional Association. “It usually costs more to implement the laws than it generates revenue,” says Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News. “If people had the money, they wouldn’t be in jail in the first place.”