Nevada County Charging for Jail Meals; ACLU Upset
RENO, Nev. February 8, 2014 (AP)
By SCOTT SONNER Associated Press
A northern Nevada county is moving ahead with what may be a
first-in-the-nation plan to charge county jail inmates for food and
medical care, despite objections from the American Civil Liberties Union
that it's cruel and unusual punishment and could lead to a court
The Elko County Commission on Wednesday approved Sheriff Jim Pitts'
proposal to charge inmates $6 a day for meals, $10 for each doctor visit
and $5 for initial booking into the jail, a move he says will save
county taxpayers millions of dollars a year.
"Why should the people of Elko County pay for somebody else's meals in
jail?" said Commissioner Grant Gerber, a backer of the plan who thinks
the fees should be higher.
Tod Story, executive director of the ACLU Nevada, said that depending on
how indigents and others who can't afford the fees are treated, the
county could be in for a legal fight over the edict to prisoners that
there is no free lunch.
"I was aghast that anyone was even thinking of doing this," he told The
Associated Press. "It is unconstitutional — cruel and unusual
"There is no value in trying to punish them further than the sentence that they are already serving," Story said.
Pitts said it costs about $85 per day per inmate to cover the costs of
food, services, housing and utilities at the facility with a capacity of
120 — a total of about $10,000 daily.
"We're not the Hilton," he told the Elko Daily Free Press, which first
reported approval of the plan on its website Thursday. "These guys
shouldn't have a free ride."
While it's not uncommon in some states for counties to charge inmates a
small fee or copayment for medical care, National Sheriff's Association
operations director Fred Wilson said he's not aware of any charging for
In Arizona, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, famous for his
crackdowns on illegal immigration and tough jail policies, has discussed
the idea and is still considering it, but he hasn't instituted it,
sheriff's spokesman Christopher Hegstrom said Friday.
"Elko has never been afraid of being first," Gerber told the AP.
Under the new policy, Elko County inmates will be exempt from the fees
if they work at the jail or are incarcerated for less than 24 hours.
Inmates ultimately found innocent will be reimbursed.
In the coming weeks, the fees will be deducted from an individual
inmate's commissary account, where family and friends can deposit money
for the inmate to order items such as candy, shampoo and envelopes.
Those with no money would see their account accrue a negative balance,
and that balance would remain in the event the inmate was released but
later returned to jail for whatever reason.
"It has nothing to do with them getting out of jail, but if they ever
come back with any money, that will be applied to what they owe us,"
Pitts said Friday. "All I'm doing is taking my cut first, before they
buy their candies. They need to pay for their food first before they get
Pitts said the fees for doctor visits are necessary to help combat an
increase in the number of inmates who appear to be faking illnesses.
"Once they hit our jail, they're sick. And then when they get into the
cells they talk to each other," Pitts told the commission. "They say,
'Oh, you got aspirin for that? Or you got a prescription for that?' So
everyone in that cell ... (claims to have) the same disease."
Story said the fees for food likely are more vulnerable to legal challenge than charging for doctor visits.
"Some jails charge a very minimal copayment for medical services, but
it's based entirely on an inmate's ability to pay, or capacity to pay,"
he said. "But the food is not even a question. Once somebody has entered
into the system, they become the responsibility of the state."