Sheriff Tim Evinger in Klamath Falls, Ore., is charging inmates $60 a day to help cover the costs of their stay, reports the Associated Press. It is an idea that first surfaced about 15 years ago in Alabama, and has since spread to about one third of the county jails in the U.S. Some critics dismiss “pay-to-stay” plans as political grandstanding because of the difficulty of collecting 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,” said Ken Kerle, editor of American Jails magazine. “Holding inmates is a government responsibility, whether government likes it or not.”
Olmstead County, Mn., suspended its pay-to-stay program after spending $13,000 over four months to administer it and collecting just $7,261. In Clayton County, Iowa, jail administrators estimate that 150 inmates have outstanding bills. Pay-to-stay programs have had some success. Missouri raked in $384,000 from inmates so far this year. But success may depend on a few wealthy criminals. Missouri collected $178,000 this year from George Ramsey, who is in prison for life for killing his mother. Ramsey, who has been behind bars since the mid-1980s, was forced to pay up this year.
Pay-to-stay programs have been hit with challenges. In Cincinnati, county officials refunded about $1 million to inmates in 2003 after a judge said pay-to-stay could violate inmates’ rights by charging them before they are proved guilty.