Many Inmates Charged for Jail Services; Revenue Yield Not Very High


Inmates at the Anderson County Jail northwest of Knoxville, Tn., soon will have to pay $9.15 for each pair of pants issued during their stay, $6.26 for each blanket, and $1.15 for each towel. They'll even have to shell out 29¢ for toilet paper, reports Time. “Our taxpayers pay $62 a day to house one inmate,” says Jay Yeager, Anderson County law director. “Our inmate care, medical care, housing care, all those budgetary codes have escalated over the past several years, and it's an unreasonable burden on our taxpayers. What we're trying to do is shift the burden off the taxpayers' back, to the inmates.”

The practice of charging inmates is common in California, Texas, New York, and Illinois. Some are skeptical about whether they close budget gaps. “It may be more symbolic than anything else,” Dwight Aarons, a professor at the University of Tennessee College of Law. “I really don't know how people in jail are supposed to make enough money to be able pay for those items.” Prison fees don't yield much revenue because the majority of prisoners are poor. U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics data shows nearly two-thirds of state-prison inmates don't have a high school diploma. Nearly a quarter of convicts expect to go to homeless shelters after prison, and more than half are still unemployed a year after their release. Prison fees can also create another obstacle for inmates after they're released: intractable debt.

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