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May 14, 2009

Should we force offenders to pay for the costs of their punishments?

This local article, headlined "N.J. lawmakers want inmates to pay jail, monitoring costs," prompts the question in this title of this post.  Here are some excerpts:

Some New Jersey lawmakers want convicted criminals to pay for their confinement or electronic monitoring. Two bills would pass the costs of state jails onto inmates and the expense of electronic monitoring devices onto sex offenders required to wear them.

A plan from State Sen. James Beach (D., Camden) would charge state prisoners for the cost of their incarceration, an average of $38,700 per year.  Beach said he had gotten the idea from within his district, where the Camden County Correctional Facility assesses a user fee of $5 per day for room and board and $10 per day for use of the infirmary.  The fees generate about $300,000 a year.

"There's a misperception that everyone in jail is poor, and that's just not true," Beach said. "Why should we as taxpayers foot the bill for someone that did something wrong and end up in jail?" With the cost of incarceration approaching $40,000 per year, Beach said, "I think we should be able to do pretty good."

A bill sponsored by State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (R., Morris) and Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) would require those convicted sex offenders who must wear electronic monitoring devices to pay the costs of that equipment, or about $2,900 per year.  "It can be quite an expense for the state, an expense that, in my view, the state shouldn't have to deal with," Pennacchio said at a hearing on the measure.

About 209 sex offenders in New Jersey must be monitored.  They are generally those considered the highest threat to safety who can still be released from confinement.  Pennsylvania charges all people who require electronic monitoring, including sex offenders, for the cost, said Leo Dunn, a spokesman for the state's parole board.

At least eight other states make sex offenders pay for monitoring devices, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.  There is also long-running movement among some county jails to charge inmates.  Pennsylvania does not do it statewide, but several counties do.

"It is popping up across the country," said Rick Neimiller, director of administration and communications for the American Jail Association. "Especially now they're looking at it, with the economy."

Critics, however, said charging inmates would put a burden on both the prisoners and their families, who are often poor.  "It discourages people trying to put their lives back together," said Elizabeth Alexander, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project. People heading to prison often owe fines, restitution, and child support, and have little income while incarcerated, said Ed Martone, director of public education and policy for the New Jersey Association on Correction.

May 14, 2009 at 04:51 PM | Permalink

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Comments

They should use the college tuition model: a full price tag ($40K) for those who can afford it. Then subsidized (with financial aid) down to what the student and his family can pay.

Isn't this whats also done with appointed counsel? There's a certain price tag to the counsel then the financial circumstances of the individual determines how much he pays.

Posted by: . | May 14, 2009 5:35:44 PM

One side benefit of doing this, prisoners who win lawsuits won't get to keep their money . . . .

Posted by: federalist | May 14, 2009 5:36:05 PM

The constitutionality is dubious. Let's assume it passes Eighth Amendment muster, despite exhorbitancy. Every penny of fees should be proven to have been spent, and no profit making should be allowed to the government. The government is a wholly owned subsidiary of the criminal cult enterprise that is the lawyer profession. The possibility of enrichment of this criminal syndicate is sickening.

1) The taxpayer should get the refund.

2) All vile cult criminal self-dealt immunities should end by statute. The victims of lawyer and judge carelessness should be allowed to sue the malfeasors and be made whole.

3) All innocent defendants should get refunds, apologies, and high interest payments for their wrongful, forced loans to the cult criminals. This mutuality of remedies seems fair.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 14, 2009 7:13:34 PM

No, I think we should make the victims pay. After all, it is they who provide the damning testimony that brings about the imprisonment. Since they so carelessly add to "incarceration nation," let them bear the costs. As the ACLU states, making the criminal pay would be, uh, not nice.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 14, 2009 7:16:21 PM

"As the ACLU states, making the criminal pay would be, uh, not nice."

I think you might have made this up. Perhaps you can cite to where they said this in their a filed brief.

There seems to be a difference between what Ms. Alexander said and what you say that she said. She said "It discourages people trying to put their lives back together," This seems a lot different than saying that it "not nice." The ACLU seems to be making a fairly developed policy argument: that society is served by having ex-convicts that can support themselves and their family. You seem to say that means that it is "not nice." Since your credibility is at issue, perhaps you can explain why you say that she said that when she seems to have said something else.

Posted by: S.cotus | May 14, 2009 7:35:42 PM

S.cotus -- Wailing about other people's credibility while hiding behind the tree of anonimity is more than a little odd, wouldn't you say?

Of course, like Kent Scheidegger and me, you can put up your real name anytime and at least make a start on building the credibility you anonymously question in posters who aren't afraid to say who they are.

After you've done that, you might think about the substance of the question here, rather than your usual diversionary tactics. You know what substance is, don't you?

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 14, 2009 8:06:48 PM

Bill Otis, I think S.Cotus was trying to make a point that you quoted the ACLU, when they had not made that statement. In other words, every time you make an argument and you quote something, we ought to double check your citations, because you are not trustworthy. At least that's how I understood.

Posted by: E | May 14, 2009 10:50:47 PM

yes, it is very simple. Mr. Otis said that the ACLU said something, when in fact, they never did.

Posted by: S.cotus | May 15, 2009 12:02:52 AM

"E" --

1. So you're another one who won't use his real name while tut-tutting the trustworthiness of those who honestly identify themselves. How impressive.

2. "S.Cotus was trying to make a point that you quoted the ACLU, when they had not made that statement."

Except that I never quoted them. When I quote someone, I use quotation marks. Go right ahead and show me where I used quotation marks.

If I'm not quoting, which I did not and did not purport to, I am free to summarize. This is so utterly standard as to hardly be worth mentioning.

"In other words, every time you make an argument and you quote something, we ought to double check your citations, because you are not trustworthy."

More trustworthy, and more accurate, than your false claim that I quoted the ACLU.

Not that it matters. It's all the same 9th grade debating stunt diversion, designed to let you avoid the question posed by the original post, which I addressed but you don't even pretend to.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 15, 2009 1:28:25 AM

Problem is, you'll have some states that will try making a profit by doing this. Here in Iowa they instituted a 50 dollar a day ( i may be off on that a little but i think it was 50) charge to anyone in the county jail. Then suddenly, bail on a lot of charges went up or changed over to 'cash only' bonds where it made it hard on most offenders to come up with bail. Coincidence? I think not.

Posted by: MarkM | May 15, 2009 3:44:21 AM

What's the correlation between "credibility" and being foolhardy enough to post one's (presumably) real name on an internet discussion forum?

As for the "substance" of the post, I don't think that anyone, anywhere, at any time, has ever advocated for "victims" to pay incarceration costs. Of course, such a visceral, feel good reference to "victims" blurs the point that a substantial portion of the behavior which has been criminalized in modern times does not have any identifiable "victims."

Posted by: Mark#1 | May 15, 2009 3:50:02 AM

How was that an accurate summary or even a paraphrase? The ACLU was making a fairly complex point: that taking money from convicts prohibits them from building stronger family which hurts society overall. Now, you may or may not agree with that statement, but it is hardly a fair summary to call it a need to be "nice"?

Posted by: S.cotus | May 15, 2009 4:21:30 AM

What the ...? Like shut up, you lawyers. You're a disgrace in your triviality.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 15, 2009 7:01:35 AM

A county would fine going through a stop sign $75. It would tack on the cost of administration to those from out of county, police time, equipment use, clerical processing (county residents having paid for those by their taxes), $2000. A federal court struck down that extortion scheme.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 15, 2009 7:27:17 AM

Yes, let's adopt the Chinese model. Execute the prisoner and bill the family for the bullet.

Posted by: yo dog | May 15, 2009 9:08:45 AM

There is a long history of charging prisoners for the cost of incarceration and prisoners that can't or refuse to pay generate huge uncollectible debts. This is also the case for persons under community supervision. It is possible to recover a portion of the cost by charging modest fees ($5 to $10) and in such cases the payment rate is fairly high. There is a lot of empirical evidence that the payment rate is inversely proportional to the size of the fee. In other words if you charge $28,000 per year the payment rate will be near zero.

Can Senator Beach tell us how much income tax New Jersey prisoners pay each year? In Iowa we help people under community supervision with their taxes so they can use part of their refund to help pay their supervision and other fees. There is not much point in doing the same for prison inmates.

Excessive fines are prohibited by the eighth amendment but is a housing or supervision fee a fine and what is the standard for determining if it is excessive?

Posted by: John Neff | May 15, 2009 9:52:30 AM

So what happens if a person really cannot afford to pay the "rent" on their jail cell? Are they going to be given more jail time for contempt of court and thus run up even more charges?

I have already thought that the entire notion of traffic fines and suspended licenses have operated in such a way to permanently deprive poor people of the ability to legally drive (and at least in rural Virginia where I used to practice that is exactly what happened) severely cramp their ability to earn a living (in a location with no public transportation, and a non-concentrated population which describes most rural areas, a person who cannot drive is going to have a very hard time finding work) and thus pay back their fines (either that or they drive anyway and thus get more fines and court costs and often wind up in jail thus making it even harder to pay their fines and court costs).

Really, when you add in things like child support obligations (it has never made sense to me to put a person who doesn't pay child support in jail since that guarantees they will not be able to pay) as well as the fines and court costs - and driver's license suspensions for unpaid fines and court costs (at least in Virginia), such a program will run a serious risk of creating what are in effect debtors prisons.

Now if inmates are made to pay their way, but are given the means and opportunity to do so if they lack the means to do so (such as through participating in work or education programs), such a program could have a positive effect. Unfortunately, I think that the debtors prison effect where poor people are constantly being sent to jail due to running up more charges and probation violations and the like is going to be much more likely.

Posted by: Zack | May 15, 2009 10:06:12 AM


Mark#1 --

"What's the correlation between 'credibility' and being foolhardy enough to post one's (presumably) real name on an internet discussion forum?"

Are you serious? You see no credibility difference between someone who's willing to sign his name to what he writes and someone who hides it? Really?

As to whether the practice of being forthcoming about one's identity is "foolhardy," I guess Doug and Kent are equally foolhardy, right? (Plus I believe others who post here, e.g., John Neff).

Taking full responsibility for what you say starts with being straightforward enough to tell people who you are. You don't know this?

"As for the 'substance' of the post, I don't think that anyone, anywhere, at any time, has ever advocated for 'victims' to pay incarceration costs."

You're not really in a position to know what "anyone, anywhere, at any time" has said. But I'll give you credit: At least that is the beginning of a discussion of substance.

"Of course, such a visceral, feel good reference to 'victims' blurs the point that a substantial portion of the behavior which has been criminalized in modern times does not have any identifiable 'victims.'"

Oooooops. I spoke too soon. You're not discussing substance; you're discussing substances. Although you don't say so directly, this is yet another weary attack on criminalizing drugs. Some people are just Johnny one-note about that. It's simply more liberalism/libertarianism run amok, not based on science (which shows beyond serious debate that drugs are at best unhealthy and at worst life-destroying, and sometimes lethal), but on ideology. Wasn't the last administration routinely ridiculed for basing policy on ideology rather than science?

If a point be made of it, though, there are numerous other examples of so-called victimless crimes. Do you dig animal cruelty? That has no human victims (and pardon me, I'm assuming that we're talking about human beings here, although some odd things do show up on this forum).

So, you know, Michael Vick should never have gone to jail for what he was doing with those dogs. Boys will be boys! And it wasn't like the group he was sponsoring just let the dogs linger, either. After getting torn to bits in the dog fight, they would drown them or just beat them to death with a board.

But not to worry! No victims here, everybody who attended those fights wanted to attend, so the law should take a hike, right?

I could go into other "victimless" crimes like prostitution, which of course is REALLY HEALTHY AND WHOLESOME for the teenage girls (and sometimes boys) who get caught up in it for various reasons.

One of the main reasons is that their parents don't care about them and don't provide for them because they're hooked on meth and/or the other drugs legalizers are going goo-goo over. (And no, "goo-goo" is not a quotation). But hey, look, being a druggie is victimless -- so we are assured, usually at about 500 indignant decibels -- so let's repeal the drug laws and have at it.

If this were my position, maybe I wouldn't sign my name either.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 15, 2009 10:14:25 AM

This is a bad idea, not because it's "mean," but because it would fill my state up with desperate ex-cons willing to do anything to make ends meet.

Signed,
A New Jerseyan who would like people getting out of prison in his state to have some incentive to get their lives in order

Posted by: New Jerseyan | May 15, 2009 10:30:54 AM

Strawman arguments are a sign of underlying weakness, as are anecdotal (but oh so scary) campfire stories of the boogyman having his way with "The Children"(tm).

As for other people jumping off the roof, I went through that stage of foolhardiness as a youngster.

Posted by: Mark#1 | May 15, 2009 11:27:48 AM

Mr. New Jersey --

1. That's an unusual name. You must have taken some nasty teasing on the playground with a name like that.

2. "A New Jerseyan who would like people getting out of prison in his state to have some incentive to get their lives in order."

I believe they already have an incentive: They can go back to prison if they insist on resuming a life of cheating and strongarming other people.

Of course, it's not really up to the state to be providing incentives for people to "get their lives in order." By the time a sane person reaches adulthood, it's up to HIM, not the state, not his neighbors, to get his life in order.

If he doesn't do this, and his failure or refusal to do so is not socially destructive, then he can go his own way. Under those circumstances, his life is not my business, nor that of the government.

If, however, his drug-pushing, yoking, stealing, car-jakcking, raping and what have you continues, then it is very much the state's business. His behavior requires that he be separated from more peaceable and responsible people, and since his behavior is the problem, he can pay for what it forces the rest of us to do to protect ourselves.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 15, 2009 11:29:11 AM

Mark#1 --

"Strawman arguments are a sign of underlying weakness..."

Strawman arguments are better than no arguments, which is what your two-sentence post offers.

Still, I have to give you credit: Your name is absent from your arguments, which are equally absent. A nice symmetry, there.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 15, 2009 11:41:37 AM

Having read this thread, I am impressed by Bill Otis's ability to start an argument with a ridiculous, diversionary debater's tactic (i.e., pretending that, because the ACLU is concerned with the policy of piling onerous fines on top of jail time, they are therefore blaming the underlying crimes on the victims), and then profess utter indignation when he reaps the whirlwind in the form of similar, assinine and non-substantive responses.

And just because I'm hiding behind an internet alias (in my case because I work for a criminal justice organization for which I am not authorized to speak, and don't wish anything I say to be erroneously attributed to my organization) does not make what I'm saying less correct. (After all, just because you are paranoid doesn't mean they are not following you.)

Posted by: Observer | May 15, 2009 3:34:43 PM

John Neff,

I thought the excessive bail and fine clauses weren't incorporated against the states?

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | May 15, 2009 4:00:44 PM

"Observer" --

"And just because I'm hiding behind an internet alias (in my case because I work for a criminal justice organization for which I am not authorized to speak, and don't wish anything I say to be erroneously attributed to my organization) does not make what I'm saying less correct. (After all, just because you are paranoid doesn't mean they are not following you.)"

Of course you could just say, "I am speaking here in my personal capacity, and my views do not necessarily represent those of my employer, who has no responsibility for them."

And no, your decision to hide does not ipso facto make what you say less correct. It does, however, mean that you are unwilling to sign your name to what you say, even though, as I have outlined above, you could easily do so in a way that would not imperil your employer.

An insistence on anonymity in those circumstances does not prove, but it does suggest, that you have less than enthusiastic eagerness to take full responsiblity for what you write.

Incidentally, Professor Berman also works for an organization for which he has no portfolio to speak, as does Kent Scheidegger. I do not work for an organization, but -- just to avoid even the appearance of hiding -- I can tell you that the last organization I worked for was the Justice Department. I was an Assistant US Attorney and chief of the appellate division in the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia from 1981 to 1999 (thus working under administrations of both parties).

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 15, 2009 4:34:35 PM

The left lost to the facts 100 years ago. Only personal attack remains. So revealing real names to left wing ideologues is not advisable. If this were a patriotic or mainstream blog, real names would enhance the experience by networking. It is an extreme left wing blog and not internet safe.

For example, I gave the name of the author of the Supremacy character to a commenter here, assuming his being a lawyer and a gentleman. He researched a legal database on the life of the author, and used facts to repeatedly attack the author personally. Prof. Berman has my personal information and has been a gentleman so far.

This is low life left wing hate site. For example, they want crime victims to suffer by their advocacy of forbearance of the criminal client.

Real names are a really bad idea.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 15, 2009 5:00:43 PM

Publius weeps.

Posted by: New Jerseyan | May 15, 2009 5:33:59 PM

Publius weeps.

Posted by: New Jerseyan | May 15, 2009 5:48:55 PM

Michigan has had a prisoner-reimbursement statute since 1935, Mich. Comp. L. 800.401. I can't quickly find any numbers to show what it generates from incarcarated prisoners. This recovery is subject, I believe, to a $50,000 homestead exemption, and there might be other exemptions available. There is a similar local scheme for county jail inmates. Usually, most of the inmates, at either the state or local levels, are poor, and cannot pay. Occasionally the government is able to get some money back. I'm not sure the money generated is a net gain, after deducting the costs of trying to find what there might be in the way of recoerable assets, and putting the prisoner's family out of the home and onto welfare.

Posted by: Greg Jones | May 18, 2009 2:28:14 PM

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