As a public defender, I deal with indigent defendants who face the prospect of jail on a regular basis. My typical clients are getting by on disability payments or are working unstable seasonal or temporary jobs. When they attempt to serve their sentences, they are often turned away from our jail due to overcrowding. Repeated attempts to schedule time off work often cause them to lose whatever job or public assistance they have been able to obtain.
To compound that loss by tacking on fees for jail use will only serve to continue the cycle of poverty they are living daily.
Further, the remedy for a defendant who is unable to pay his fines often is to serve out those fines in jail. If the defendant were then charged for that time, he or she would leave jail owing new fines, creating an unending cycle of debt owed to the county.
As for why the public should have to pay the cost of incarceration, it's because the public, through its legislators, has decided that incarceration is the penalty for committing a crime. The public, therefore, bears the communal cost of implementing that penalty.
Finally, I take issue with the derisive tone of the editorial. I don't know of any defendant who thinks of jail as a "free ride" — the very idea that defendants are committing crimes in order to obtain three squares a day from the county is absurd.
Maureen E. David
Assistant Public Defender
Erie County Public Defender’s Office