Jail Fees: Adding Insult to Injury

By Thomas L. Knapp
 
While traveling by bus earlier this week, I made the acquaintance of a fellow passenger who had just been released from jail.handsjail in Alachua County, Florida, after spending a year fighting charges he was eventually acquitted of. Interesting guy with an interesting story, and one that puts a burr under my fur about how the law treats those accused of crimes.
 
As you read this, keep in mind once again that he was acquitted — found “not guilty” of any crime. He was kept in jail without bail through the lengthy trial process because he was from out of state and considered a flight risk.
 
When he was booked into the jail, he was assessed a $50 fee for the processing.
 
While he remained in jail, he was assessed a fee of $4 per day for his room and board (which, he told me, consisted of a hot breakfast, then bologna sandwiches for lunch and dinner every day).
 
There may have been other fees, too, but we’re already looking at $1,500 he was required to pay just to remain in a place he would cheerfully have walked right out of if allowed.
 
When family and friends sent him money for “commissary” (the in-jail store where inmates can buy candy and such to supplement the jail diet), the fees were deducted from it before he got any of the money. And, he said, if an inmate is released “owing” the jail money, he’s issued a letter detailing a payment plan, with a warning that the matter will be referred to a collection agency if the money isn’t forthcoming.
 
There’s a term for that kind of scheme, but I can’t use it in a family-oriented column. It refers to uncastrated male cattle and what they leave on the ground behind them.
 
This is the third time I’m mentioning that he was acquitted. Do you suppose the sheriff’s office cut him a refund check for all those fees? Nope.
 
And  if he had been convicted? So what?
 
The theory behind the American criminal justice system is that it works on behalf of all of us innocent folks out here enjoying our freedom. I have my doubts about that theory, but if it’s true, shouldn’t “we” pick up the check for keeping people — even guilty people — in jail if that’s where “we” want them kept? This evil “fee” system needs to go.
 
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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4 Responses to Jail Fees: Adding Insult to Injury

  1. Bruce Boyer March 14, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    Tell me again, lie to me and tell me we live in a free Country! Jailed for a year awaiting trial; where is our Right to a speedy trial/ Our Right to ‘reasonable bail? They are shredded. There is a case progressing forward for a young man falsely arrested, charges dismissed who spent nearly three years in jail, Riker’s Island NY ‘awaiting trial” as the tried to force him into accepting a plea deal for ‘time served’. For such injustice that we either perpetrate, facilitate, or spectate, God will rightly judge us harshly. Which one are you? Spectator? Stand up and fight injustice, stop being a spectator and thinking that you are not culpable!

    Reply
  2. William "Bill" Hicks March 11, 2016 at 10:55 am

    It’s not just keeping a person behind bars that repays society for being outside the law. Ideally the aggrieved should receive recompense for their losses. Certainly, the perp should not just spend time behind bars as his penalty alone.

    Now, on the other hand, an innocent, or not proven guilty, person should not have to have an unjust penalty either.

    Reply
  3. Thomas L. Knapp March 11, 2016 at 8:11 am

    Bill,

    Well, that’s kind of the whole point.

    If “we” want Person X to be held in jail, it’s “our” job to pick up the check.

    HE didn’t walk up to the gate and say “put me in a cage, don’t let me leave and feed me nothing but bologna sandwiches.”

    HE would almost certainly gladly leave if allowed to. The only reason he doesn’t is that the doors are locked and that if he does manage to slip out he will be chased and, if he survives capture, involuntarily returned.

    The hypothetical “we” — aka “the taxpayers” — are the ones who supposedly want him kept in jail. If you want something, pay for it. If you don’t want to pay for it, don’t demand it.

    Reply
  4. William "Bill" Hicks March 11, 2016 at 7:49 am

    Actually Mr. Knapp, I agree with you partially. He should have been given a break after being acquitted. And keep in mind, being acquitted is not the same thing as being found innocent.

    What if he had been found guilty? Isn’t it “fair” that the perp pay for his care instead of the taxpayers under that circumstance?

    Reply

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