Friday, January 8, 2010

Caucus Pushes Prisoner 'Pay-To-Stay' Bill

Crime doesn’t pay, but what’s wrong with making the criminals themselves pay – literally – to help defray the cost of their incarceration?

That’s just what Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson had been doing at the Dartmouth House of Correction, where inmates were assessed a $5-a-day “pay-to-stay” fee – that is, until the Supreme Judicial Court shot down the policy earlier this week. The reason? The state’s sheriff’s lack the authority to impose such a fee, which the SJC noted must be given to them by the Legislature.

Let’s do the math: at $5-a-day, Hodgson was collecting a grand total of $1,825 a year per inmate. But the actual annual cost to the state for housing each inmate is closer to $35,000, so taxpayers would still be picking up the $33,175 difference. One could argue that these inmates should be paying their own way, but all Hodgson did was ask them to contribute roughly 5 percent – not a bad deal for someone who has broken the law and forfeited their freedom.

Senate Minority Leader Richard R. Tisei thinks Hodgson’s “pay-to-stay” policy is a “common sense” approach that most law-abiding citizens support. The good news is, Tisei and the rest of the Senate Republican Caucus are planning to push legislation – filed last January and currently pending before the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security – that would allow the state to charge criminals a minimum of $2-a-day for their incarceration.