Erie County jail officials describe it as a “can’t miss proposition,” and we can’t help but agree.
It makes sense to charge convicted inmates at the jail a fee for housing them.
Erie County, like virtually all governmental entities, is facing a sharp budget crunch. This is an easy way to create a little extra cash. Charge a user fee. Make the people who are convicted of crimes help the public pay for their stay at the jail. State law does allow counties to charge a fee.
Even if the fee is small, it will help. It has been said countless times, money is tight for government. Jail and the correctional system are an important function of government, but they are almost begging for a user fee. Look at the court system. Many court systems pay for new facilities with court costs, making the users of the system pay for it. Jails should be the same way. We would not even be opposed to a somewhat hefty fee. Make the inmate pay whatever he or she can afford. If you really think about it, why should the public pay for convicted person to live rent and board free.
The public has always paid for incarceration because it is an essential part of government — but when you get down to it, the concept of inmates living for free is a little illogical. Make them pay a little bit. It could also serve as a crime determent. Make criminals know jail is not just a free ride. Perhaps it will deter them a little.
Jail administrator Capt. Todd Dempsey is studying other counties’ systems right now to see if the idea is workable for Erie County. Two counties he has looked at, Crawford and Ashland, have raised a little money through fees. One issue is that the fees barely make a dent in jail budgets. That is why we suggest pursuing higher fees than those counties. Charge a daily fee to inmates, something that will raise at least a somewhat significant amount of money.
The cost of housing an inmate at the county jail is about $55-$65 a day. Consider making an inmate pay a third or even half. That would generate some money. Problems arise if the person is indigent. But make the person pay whatever they can afford, even if they are paying it off after incarceration. The public should not have to shell out so much for corrections. The public did not commit the crime. Why should it have to pay so much?
The county is already seeing some success with a similar program, charging a co-pay for some medical treatment. We think this is a great idea and recommend the county extend the concept.