Jail Fees a Cruel Twist to 'Paying Your Dues'
By Dannie Martin
Bowling Green, Ky: In a time
when corporations are operating jails and prisons
for profit, local jails are getting in on the act.
The Warren County jail in Bowling Green, Ky., is
operating one such "pay as you go" jail.
Inmates are charged a $20 processing fee to be booked
in and $20 dollars a day for every day they remain
in the jail. A visit to the jail doctor runs $20,
and $5 for a visit to the jail nurse.
If prescriptions are filled outside the jail, the
actual cost is billed, and it is a $5 co-pay for
jail medicine such as aspirin. The jail has a firm
policy forbidding any narcotic medication. Apparently,
severe pain is against jail rules here.
Danny Lindsay, 23, has been in Warren County jail
for one week after being sentenced to 60 days for
contempt of court. He says he takes medicine for
a rare blood disorder and gets it free outside with
his medical insurance. Jail staff, he says, would
not let his family send in his medicine. They choose
to fill it at a local pharmacy.
His family sent him $60 to spend at the jail commissary.
The jail took $30 of it to apply toward his bill.
That is standard procedure here. The bottom of his
money receipt shows a balance due the jail of $589.
"That's over $600 a week, man. After 60 days
I'll owe $5,000," Lindsay says.
About one-third of county jails in the United States
charge inmates for their time behind bars, according
to a May 23, 2004, Associated Press report. In Minnesota,
Olmstead County suspended its "pay-to-stay"
program after losing close to $6,000 in four months.
The state of Missouri did better, gouging inmates
for a total of $384,000 over several months, according
to the AP.
Here, new arrivals are issued one mattress, one
blanket, a sheet, a towel, a small bar of motel
soap and a three-inch toothbrush with enough paste
for one brushing. A jumpsuit is the only clothing
issued. No shorts, no socks, no shoes -- no anything.
Underwear, shoes and socks can be purchased at the
commissary at exorbitant rates.
Food can also be purchased, and the jail fare is
sparse to say the least. Some inmates try to ignore
their medical needs to keep from going hungry all
day. Hunger makes a day seem longer than illness.
One uneducated hillbilly from the far reaches of
Harlan County, Kentucky, looks at his docked money
slips and says something that sounds almost philosophical.
"We ain't presumed innocent no more. We are
presumed in arrears!!"
A survey of the jail population reveals there are
no rich people here. They are all out on bail. The
middle-class is barely represented, so the cost
of the jail falls on the abject poor, who make up
the majority of the jail population.
Someone says to Danny Lindsay: "The hell with
them. They can't make you pay that five grand once
you get out."
"No, but if I don't pay it," Lindsay replies,
"they will turn it over to a collection agency
and ruin my credit for the rest of my life."
Life without credit seems like a harsh sentence
for contempt of court.
- New America Media