Marion County, Ind., Sheriff Frank Anderson has proposed charging inmates in the county jail a $30-a-day fee to recoup the cost of housing them, reports the Indianapolis Star. The idea — suggested as officials presented bare-bones 2005 budgets this week — has been used in dozens of other cities but could face legal challenges. Anderson said his proposal to the City-County Council was intended as a way to open a debate, not necessarily a move he supports completely. He said he is “trying to be conscientious and finding ways to get money without having the burden put on the taxpayer.”
Ken Falk, a lawyer with the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, said the idea was potentially problematic. The group has been locked in a decades-old lawsuit about overcrowding at the jail. Morgan County, Inc., officials were forced to drop a $25 fee last year after they were sued. In 2002, a federal judge in Ohio ruled that similar booking fees violated prisoners’ constitutional rights. In Florida, a $4 monthly fee at state prisons is expected to raise about $3.5 million annually. Marion County would raise more than $12 million if all 1,100 inmates paid a $30 daily fee for a year. But some suggest that 80 percent of inmates are indigent, and Anderson’s proposal would exempt those who live in poverty.