'Pay to stay': Inmates across U.S. charged for their own incarceration
Nearly every state lets prisons and jails charge inmates for their own incarceration — room, board, clothing, and doctor's visits — in a phenomenon called "pay to stay."
We don't know exactly how many prisons and jails take advantage of "pay to stay." The latest survey, in 2005, found that 90 percent of jails surveyed charged inmates fees of one kind of another. In an era of tight budgets, the practice is probably even more widespread today.
The Brennan Center for Justice, a criminal justice reform think tank, put together an analysis of what pay-to-stay laws are on the books in every state. If you're interested in what your state's laws are, you can check out this nifty interactive map on their website. But spoiler alert: your state almost certainly has pay-to-stay.
Pay-to-stay piles on a second punishment to the sentence that's been handed down by a judge. That creates lasting, detrimental effects on inmates and their families — and society as a whole. It doubles the strain on inmates' families: in addition to losing a household income, they have to pay to support their incarcerated family member. And it makes it even harder for inmates to get back on their own two feet financially after they're released from prison.
It's estimated that about 10 million Americans owe about $50 billion in debt because of fees and fines they've gotten through the criminal justice system — and thanks to pay-to-stay, some of that debt comes from prisoners having to pay for their own incarceration.