By John Vibes
Did you know that people who end up in prison for a variety of different reasons have a very good chance of being charged a fee for every day that they stay behind bars as if they were voluntarily staying at a hotel?
According to a new ACLU report, this is exactly what is happening all across the United States, in select prisons where these policies have been enacted. The BBC reported that roughly 10 million people in the United States owe a combined total of over $10 billion in “pay-to-stay” prison debt.
Obviously, these fees can make a bad situation even worse for people who are serving time for petty crimes, especially considering that most of the people who do end up behind bars come from lives of poverty to begin with. Now, when many of these inmates are released from prison they are unable to get back on their feet due to this crippling debt.
Some people who have been arrested for petty offenses, many drug-related, are released from jail with tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt that make it near impossible for them to rebuild their lives.
David Mahoney, for example, is a former inmate who is now $21,000 in debt after being in and out of jail for most of his life. Now that he has cleaned up his act, he is still haunted from the fees for his stay in prison.
“Obviously, it’s my fault I’m in the situation I am in. I’m trying to start over. People that end up in jail are usually down on their luck anyway. They’re going through some trials and tribulations in life. Why focus on the people who are already struggling?” he said.
This week, the ACLU has released one of the first comprehensive reports on the “pay-to-stay” policies that have been implemented at prisons around the country.
Mike Brickner of the ACLU told the BBC that these policies are destructive to people who come from lives of poverty, and to make matters worse they don’t even work.
“We’re hearing from people who are claiming this is going on their credit scores and preventing them from doing all sorts of things. They simply don’t work. People are coming out of jail with hundreds or thousands of dollars’ worth of debt, and if you are a returning citizen, having that is just another albatross around your neck. It’s a program that maybe feels good to people who have a tough on crime mentality, but, in fact, it’s sort of a fruitless exercise,” Brickner said.
Even supporters of the program have admitted that it doesn’t bring in enough money to justify its existence.
Dale Osborne, a jail administrator from the state of Ohio where 40 out of 75 jails have pay-to-stay policies, has defended the program, but admits that it is a failure and that he would not really miss it.
“It offsets the expenses that the taxpayers are required to have. The more revenue I can generate within a facility, the less the taxpayers have to pay,” he said, adding that “If we lost the ability to have a pay-for-stay program here I’m not going to have any huge heartache over the loss of it.”
While it may not be a huge advantage to the prisons, this program is a massive disadvantage for former prisoners who are attempting to re-enter society.
John Vibes is an author and researcher who organizes a number of large events including the Free Your Mind Conference. He also has a publishing company where he offers a censorship free platform for both fiction and non-fiction writers. You can contact him and stay connected to his work at his Facebook page. You can purchase his books, or get your own book published at his website www.JohnVibes.com.