Jail Fees: Adding Insult to Injury

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While traveling by bus earlier this week, I made the acquaintance of a fellow passenger who had just been released from jail in Alachua County, Florida, after spending a year fighting charges he was eventually acquitted of. Interesting guy with an interesting story, and one that puts a burr under my fur about how the law treats those accused of crimes.

As you read this, keep in mind once again that he was acquitted — found “not guilty” of any crime. He was kept in jail without bail through the lengthy trial process because he was from out of state and considered a flight risk.

When he was booked into the jail, he was assessed a $50 fee for the processing.

While he remained in jail, he was assessed a fee of $4 per day for his room and board (which, he told me, consisted of a hot breakfast, then bologna sandwiches for lunch and dinner every day).

There may have been other fees, too, but we’re already looking at $1,500 he was required to pay just to remain in a place he would cheerfully have walked right out of if allowed.

When family and friends sent him money for “commissary” (the in-jail store where inmates can buy candy and such to supplement the jail diet), the fees were deducted from it before he got any of the money. And, he said, if an inmate is released “owing” the jail money, he’s issued a letter detailing a payment plan, with a warning that the matter will be referred to a collection agency if the money isn’t forthcoming.

There’s a term for that kind of scheme, but I can’t use it in a family-oriented column. It refers to uncastrated male cattle and what they leave on the ground behind them.

This is the third time I’m mentioning that he was acquitted. Do you suppose the sheriff’s office cut him a refund check for all those fees? Nope.

And  if he had been convicted? So what?

The theory behind the American criminal justice system is that it works on behalf of all of us innocent folks out here enjoying our freedom. I have my doubts about that theory, but if it’s true, shouldn’t “we” pick up the check for keeping people — even guilty people — in jail if that’s where “we” want them kept? This evil “fee” system needs to go.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.