08/17/2010 // West Palm Beach, FL, USA // Tara Monks // Tara Monks
Boston, MA – Massachusetts Legislature has put a proposal to charge its prison inmates living and service fees on hold until a commission studies the issue in September, as reported by www.WWLP.com and Daily Hampshire Gazette. The proposal consisted of charging inmates $5 a day for living expenses, as well as $5 per doctor or dentist visit and $3 for prescribed drugs.
According to The Patriot Ledger, house lawmakers passed the measure as an amendment to their state budget proposal. Senate and Governor approval are still needed to put it into effect.
The delay came after a grassroots organization caught wind of the proposal and began petitioning. According to Lois Ahrens, founder of the nonprofit Real Cost of Prisons Project, “This is an example of a simply punitive idea that passes overnight with no debate and no one even knowing about it, and then it takes 30 years to undo the damage.”
Ahrens pointed out many inmates are awaiting trial, and may be innocent and undeserving of the imposed fees. She explained, ‘Most people are in jail because they can’t make bail or afford a lawyer…They are there because they are poor, and on top of it all, they could end up waiting for trial for two or three months, accumulating these fees.”
Ahrens claims the fees are unfair to inmates hoping to rejoin society, explaining the charges put extra financial burden on top of their, and their families’, pre-existing struggles.
Others feel differently. Bristol County Sheriff Hodgson told Daily Hampshire Gazette he supports the fees. He explained fees for those awaiting trial would be canceled if the person is found innocent. But, he clarifies, if those charged are convicted, the fees from their time awaiting trial should stand.
Hodgson explained the fees would lift some of the burden of housing inmates for the taxpayers. He told the press, “The taxpayers need assistance,” and the system would understand inability to pay, explaining, “if they (the inmates) don’t commit any crimes for two years after their release, their debt will be gone…But if they do come back, they will be held responsible for the debt. It is an incentive to follow the rules upon release.”
The debate continues; as some claim it will brew anger amongst the state’s prisoners, others hold that it will teach responsibility and create incentive to avoid future crimes.
One prisoner costs taxpayers $35,000 a year. A $5 a day fee would cost a prisoner $150 a month, or $1,850 a year. Two dental trips a year would equal $10, and a prescription for antibiotics would be $3.
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