- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2004

So much for coddling prison inmates. Not only do the majority of U.S. prison systems restrict smoking — with some banning it outright — but most also charge for room and board, and for medical services.

Beginning this week, inmates in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center are paying $1 a day for room and board. Even though that amount is just a fraction of the $130 daily cost of housing an inmate, the sheriff’s department expects it to generate more than $200,000 a year.

In Alabama, the 2,600 prisoners in that state’s work-release program pay 40 percent of their earnings to the state, which can be viewed as a payback for their room and board, corrections department spokesman Brian Corbett said.

“Here in North Dakota, we charge inmates $3 for each doctor’s visit. You should hear them cry,” said Cathy Jensen, head of the records department of the North Dakota State Penitentiary.

“More and more fees are being levied to defray the cost of services offered by correctional systems,” according to the American Correctional Association (ACA) in a report in its newsletter, Corrections Compendium.

Steve Ingley, executive director of the American Jail Association, said charging inmates fees for lodging and services, is a “perception” that these expenses “are part of their responsibility that the law-abiding taxpayer should not be the only one who has to pay” the costs of incarceration.

Fifty-three percent of prison systems that responded to an ACA survey said they charge for room and board, including for inmates in work-release programs. ACA pointed out that such fees are primarily based on a percentage of inmates’ wages, but added they are often contingent on a prisoner’s ability to pay.

Seventy-one percent of reporting corrections systems said they also charge fees for medical services. Mr. Ingley said the fees for doctors’ visits typically run between $1 and $10.

“Fees are charged to cut down on frivolous sick calls,” Mr. Ingley said, stressing that sick inmates are not denied medical care because of an inability to pay.

In Tennessee, prisoners are charged a $3 co-payment for their intake physical examination, their initial dental examination and every time they see a doctor. They are also charged $3 for tuberculosis screening and flu shots and $5 every time they receive eyeglasses, a hearing aid or dentures, according to information on the Web site of the Tennessee Department of Corrections.

“That’s a fortune [for the inmates], since they only make 30 cents an hour,” said Jennifer Johnson, the departmental spokeswoman.

Last week, the California Assembly voted 64 to 4 to bar smoking in all state prisons and juvenile facilities. If the bill is passed by the state Senate and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who occasionally enjoys a good cigar, California inmates would find themselves paying hefty fines for smoking violations.

The ACA survey found that smoke-free facilities are now in place in 53 percent of prison systems.

And in Alaska, prisoners cannot watch television until they receive a general education degree, the equivalent of a high school diploma. And there is a limit on the amount of food they are provided, which cannot exceed U.S. military standards.

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