In Elko County, Nevada Sheriff Jim Pitts and the County Commissioners think that prisoners incarcerated in the county jail have it too good and are another class of lazy takers sponging off of the taxpayers. They have decided to do something about it and to that end the County Commission recently approved the sheriff’s plan to charge inmates for such luxuries as food, shelter and medical care.
Pitts says that at $85 per inmate per day the taxpayers are paying $10,000 a day to house these miscreants and he thinks that is just wrong comparing it to punishing the county’s law-abiding citizens for the crimes of others.
Under his plan prisoners would be charged $6 a day for meals, $10 for each doctor’s visit, $5 for each prescription and another $25 initially for the privilege of being booked into the jail. He says that his plan will save the taxpayers millions of dollars every year.
“Why should the people of Elko County pay for somebody else’s meals in jail?” said Commissioner Grant Gerber who is a supporter of the sheriff’s plan.
Since a large proportion of the inmates in a county jail are those who have been charged with a crime and who are awaiting trial, this amounts to punishment in anticipation of conviction, much like the practices of their neighbor to the south in Clark County, Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Apparently in Nevada there is no presumption of innocence until proven guilty, but rather a presumption of guilt until proven innocent.
Pitts says that this is not the case since those who are found innocent at trial will be reimbursed for the monies confiscated from their commissary accounts while they are confined but it does impose a punishment on them at the time.
He describes it as making them pay for their meals and such before they get to have dessert in the form of the candy and cookies they can obtain from the commissary, but that is not really the case.
He omits the fact that toiletries such as soap and shampoo even toothpaste will not be supplied as long as there is money in your account, these are supplied only to totally indigent inmates in most jails. It also ignores the fact that in most jails most of the inmates are chronically hungry because a more lethargic population is easier to control therefore meals are limited to the number of calories required by law, enough to keep one alive but not enough for most adults to feel that their hunger has been satisfied.
The plan is not going to be put into effect without a challenge, the Nevada ACLU has spoken out against it and promises to take the issue to court if it is in fact implemented.
“I was aghast that anyone was even thinking of doing this,” Tod Story, executive director of the ACLU Nevada told The Associated Press. “It is unconstitutional — cruel and unusual punishment.”
“There is no value in trying to punish them further than the sentence that they are already serving,” Story said.
The sheriff says that those who have no deposits made to their accounts will not be refused services or meals but that the negative balance on those accounts will remain and if they are ever arrested in the future they will enter the jail with an account that already has a negative balance. This alone raises red flags. What happens when the indigent inmate is released and becomes gainfully employed and can be expected to be carrying cash in his pocket? Would he not have a target on his back inviting the sheriff’s department to arrest him whenever the opportunity presents itself?
Let’s say for example he is found to be speeding or jaywalking all they would have to do is to book him into the jail before releasing him on his own recognizance but after they have confiscated all of the cash in his pockets to pay what he “owes.”
The idea of charging inmates for medical care is even more outrageous. The courts have ruled many times that the government has a responsibility to provide medical care for inmates at all levels of incarceration. The sheriff of course has an explanation for this as well.
“Once they hit our jail, they’re sick. And then when they get into the cells they talk to each other. They say, ‘Oh, you got aspirin for that? Or you got a prescription for that?’ So everyone in that cell … (claims to have) the same disease,” Pitts said.
Of course, that makes sense, inmates are always trying to find a way to get their hands on aspirin, that is one of those drugs that are highly prized because of the difficulty in obtaining it.
Story sees the plan differently. “Some jails charge a very minimal copayment for medical services, but it’s based entirely on an inmate’s ability to pay, or capacity to pay,” he said. “But the food is not even a question. Once somebody has entered into the system, they become the responsibility of the state.”
Under the policy, only those inmates who work in the jail during their stay, an opportunity afforded to very few of them, those who stay for less than 24 hours and those eventually acquitted would be exempt — and as noted before, those who are found innocent will still pay while they are there and be reimbursed after acquittal.
h/t: Opposing Views