Friday, April 17, 2009

Polk County Jail gets tougher

I'm both pleased, and a little concerned, to see that the Polk County Jail in Florida is getting tougher on its inmates, in response to budgetary shortfalls. Having worked as a chaplain (part-time and full-time) in prisons for many years, I agree that inmates are more than adequately provided for - sometimes so much so that the 'punishment' aspect of their incarceration isn't that hard to deal with.

First, we learn that the Polk County Sheriff, Grady Judd, has started cutting back on menu ingredients - although not on the nutritional quality of the diet. Inmates are losing chocolate milk, coffee, tea and fruit juice, and getting water; peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are being replaced by meat sandwiches; two fresh eggs per week by one egg patty; crackers instead of cornbread; a single slice of bread for breakfast, instead of two; and reconstituted powdered milk instead of fresh. These measures and others will save almost $200,000 per year.

Next, inmates will have to start paying something towards the cost of incarcerating them - currently running at an average of $52.27 per day. They'll be charged $2 per day towards their housing and care, as permitted under Florida law. Other fees already implemented include:

  1. $30 one-time administrative per diem fee when they are booked into the jail;
  2. Medical co-payment fees: $10 to see a nurse, $15 to see a doctor, $10 pharmacy co-pay, and $75 for off-site transportation for medical visits;
  3. Weekend inmate work program administration fee: $20 per day ($40 for the weekend);
  4. Weekday inmate work program administration fee: $8 per day ($40 per work week);
  5. $9 hygiene kit/underwear fee ($1.50 for hygiene kit and $7.50 for five pair of underwear) charged to inmates assigned to housing.

If inmates don't have enough money to pay, they won't be denied normal food and lodging, but a running balance of what they owe will be maintained, and deducted from any monies sent to them, wages earned, etc. It's not specified whether they'll have to repay any balance owed after they leave prison.

As I said, I'm pleased that inmates are being made to bear some of the costs incurred by incarcerating them, and also that they're living more simply than they were. They're in jail as a punishment, anyway!

However, this also raises a concern in my mind. Will inmates awaiting trial be subject to the same restrictions and conditions? That, I couldn't approve. By definition, in US law, one is innocent until proven guilty. I wouldn't like to think that someone who isn't convicted of the offence for which he/she is charged should nevertheless be subjected to this regime. That would seem unfair and unreasonable to me. Also, what happens to their fees when they're not convicted? One can hardly charge them for their incarceration in good conscience! Does the County have to pick up those costs?

What say you, readers?



joe said...

This doesn't seem unreasonable at all, to me. I agree with you that these fees should NOT apply before conviction. We could, however, make them apply retroactively to the pre-conviction period after they're convicted.
Here's another idea: if they're acquitted, either at trial or on appeal, should the county pay them for their trouble?

Anonymous said...

The only charge I could see for someone prior to conviction would be for extraordinary medical expenses. I'm thinking - heart attack, stroke, viral pneumonia, the sorts of problems that one would expect to use insurance for whether or not one were awaiting trial. But then, most of the people in the county hoosegow would probably be on the county's tab anyway, in or out of jail (based on personal experience with medical transport)!


Wayne Conrad said...

I think making inmates pay for their incarceration sounds good, but it's masking the real problem: There are too many inmates.

Only a small fraction of us are truly criminals. If there are more than that in jail, it's because we're putting people in jail for things that ought not to be crimes. If you've got so many people in jail that paying for them all has gotten to be a problem, then getting the prisoners to pay for their own incarceration only allows the state to continue to do the wrong thing: put too many people in jail.

Instead, how about we, oh, I don't know. Stop the war on some drugs, as a start.

So, I am not in favor of this. It allows the state to continue to put too many people in jail. I want to put the financial and legal screws to them. It should be expensive as hell to put people in prison, and we should not give them much money for it. Then let them only put in prison as many people as they can afford to. The rest go free.