To help cover incarceration costs, more jurisdictions are billing inmates for their room and board, reports the New York Times. In suburban Macomb County, north of Detroit, Sheriff Mark Hackel last year 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 on a sliding scale of $8 to $56 a day, depending on ability to pay. 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 a truck factory worker who is serving half a year for drunk driving paid $7,212 this week to cover part of his bill, the largest single amount collected.
More than half of states collect fees in prisons, says the American Correctional Association. Critics say the fees put an unfair burden on a impoverished population. Others say the fees deprive inmates of due process or constitute cruel and unusual punishment. “The simple, stark truth is that most inmates are not drug kingpins with lots of assets,” said Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut attorney general. “In some cases, seizing assets may be counterproductive because it will interfere with their rehabilitation.”