Charging Inmates Perpetuates Mass Incarceration

In this policy brief, L.B. Eisen explains how imposing fees upon incarcerated people perpetuates mass incarceration. The brief outlines describes contemporary fee practices, explores the history of those fees, analyzes their constitutionality, and makes several policy recommendations to mitigate collateral consequences.

You can read the full text of the brief here.

  • “Michigan passed the first correctional fee law in 1846 when it authorized counties to charge inmates for the cost of medical care. Today, at least 35 states authorize either state or correctional facilities to charge inmates for medical fees such as co-pays or fees for procedures.” These medical fees can deter incarcerated people from seeking necessary medical care.
  • “By 2004, one survey found that approximately one-third of county jails and more than 50 percent of state correctional systems had instituted “pay-to-stay” fees, charging inmates for their own incarceration.”
  • In some counties, people incarcerated in jail can choose to pay to serve their sentence in an ‘upgraded’ facility with improved amenities. “A sergeant at the Seal Beach Detention Center in California recently stated, ‘We cater to good people who make bad choices.’”
  • Jurisdictions should revisit their collection practices and critically assess their efficacy.
  • State laws should be amended to set reasonable limits on law enforcement and correctional agencies’ discretion to charge fees.
  • All statutes should require that corrections agencies allow fee waivers for indigent people.
  • Jurisdictions should set caps on the amount of criminal justice debt an individual can accrue.
  • A national survey should be conducted to determine how widespread this practice is.
L.B. Eisen, Brennan Center for Justice