Pay-To-Stay Programs for Rural County Jails

As I input the finishing edits and add in the photos for the Human Squirrel Cage book, there is a growing challenge for counties around the country, specifically with their pay-to-stay programs, some of which were initiated decades ago. Pay-to-stay requires those incarcerated in county jails to foot the bill for their own confinement. It is akin to locking yourself in a low-rent (although not low-quality in most cases) motel. Ironically, jails are sometimes referred to as the "Crowbar Motel." The cost per day, depending on the county and the amenities provided, can range anywhere from $25 to $155+ y. Yeah. That last one is not a typo. Opting-in for a private jail stay to avoid the overcrowding and reduce the risk to your life, or checking into a hoosegow in a urban jail, will set you back as much per day as a nice vacation hotel room or a cabin in the mountains might. The only catch is, inmates don't get to check out whenever they want to keep the cost of their board bill down. Only the 'hotel manager' (judge) can shorten your stay and the concierge (the sheriff) has to unlock your door from the outside.

The controversy over pay-to-stay programs - several lawsuits have been filed - is over their constitutionality when an inmates is arrested for failure to pay. Inmates leaving county facilities owing large debts many of whom have no hope of paying that debt, may be arrested for violating their probation. Making regular payments toward one's board bill is a condition of probation in many counties. Once rearrested and locked up, their debt begins to multiply, locking them into an endless cycle. Pay-to-stay programs are, in theory and in practice, a good way for counties to recover some of the funds needed to keep their jails clean, safe, and well maintained, but the recovery rate of funds slows as the average economic status of the defendants, many of whom are declared indigent and in need of a public defender, declines.

Returning a defendant to jail for non-payment of debt is believed to violate the United States Supreme Court's previous decision (1835, I think) making debtors prisons illegal. That's a rather over-simplified summary, but you get the gist of the under-girding argument. Being poor isn't a crime.

The only other option to incarceration may be . . . night court! I wonder how much the savings counties would realize by offering  misdemeanor and non-violent defendants the right to a super-speedy trial. In our county's past, defendants didn't languish in the county pokey too long. They were arraigned within hours, plead guilty or not guilty, and either made bail or were remanded. Of course, bail, court costs, and fines were cheaper then, too. Perhaps electronic alternatives are the answer.

Today, we have Smartwatches and the ability to monitor a person's whereabouts without locking them behind bars. This might be a less expensive option that bail bondsmen or counties could offer. Of course, there's computers, tracking software, and some costs associated with such a program. Everything costs something. Nothing is free. The upside is, no jail time for defendants waiting trial. What would be the chances of getting a night judge, a set of public defenders, and a nighttime prosecutor to take on the evening and swing shifts? Would it be more than housing multiple prisoners, feeding, clothing, and providing them medical care? In the past, in our county, the court was in session on Saturdays. It's a thought.

So, what is the answer? I don't know. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the courts. In the meantime, avoid jail, or have a job before you go in so you can apply for work release and keep earning, and paying your bill, as you go so once you're out everything is paid, and you are free indeed.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Profanity, explicit content, racist language, or advertising blurbs and URLs are prohibited.