Prison Fees Proposed in Massachusetts

Here is a rather lame article (because not very balanced) from the Milford (Mass.) Daily News by Lois Ahrens of the Real Cost of Prisons Project. Apparently a Republican state legislator, Rep. Elizabeth Poirier (of North Attleboro) wants to start requiring prisoners to pay small “rooming” fees, and fees for visits to the doctor or the dentist. The most appalling claim from Poirier here is that, in addition to raising up to $10 million, “This may perhaps lessen the frequency of doctor visits, which will reduce the cost of prisons.” Hm–I haven’t heard that the problem with health care in prisons is that prisoners are getting too much of it.

We’ve posted a couple times recently about some people’s speculation that budget problems may lead state and local leaders to re-think expensive (and ineffective) policies of mass incarceration. We’re skeptical, since people had the same hopes in earlier downturns and the prison boom has just chugged along. This kind of talk shows another direction things could go: balancing state and local budgets partly on the backs of prisoners (while simultaneously cutting social services that may help prevent crime, provide drug treatment, etc.). (The April 2008 issue of Prison Legal News had an article, “Making the ‘Bad Guy’ Pay: Growing Use of Cost Shifting as an Economic Sanction,” about the trend of charging prisoners to offset the high costs of mass incarceration.) And the amount of criminal justice spending in the first draft of the stimulus plan (which we’ve also reported on) suggests that there might be an element of “penal Keynesianism” going on, too, in response to the larger economic crisis.

Anyhow, here’s that article:

Local legislators weigh in on prison fee idea

By Stephanie Ganias | Daily News correspondent | February 8th, 2009

BOSTON—One state legislator has a simple plan to bring in $10 million for the state: Charge inmates small fees for rooming as well as medical and dental treatments.

The proposal by state Rep. Elizabeth Poirier, R-North Attleboro, will allow sheriffs statewide to charge inmates for their incarceration time.

“This will go a long way to help the hardworking, taxpaying citizens of our commonwealth who not only have to shoulder the burden of inmate incarceration, but many other things that they struggle to pay for like food and fuel or even mortgage payments,” said Poirier. “I feel it is little to ask from prisoners.”

The proposal was brought to her attention by Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson. Hodgson met with lawmakers Wednesday to seek support for legislation, which is expected to be filed this week. Under the proposal, inmates would face a variety of charges: A daily cost of custodial care not to exceed $5, a medical visit fee not related to a condition pre-existing at the time of incarceration also not to exceed $5, a dental visit fee not to exceed $5, prescription eyeglass visit fee not to exceed $5, and a pharmacy prescription fee not to exceed $3.

The fees are expected to generate $10 million in additional revenue.

“This may perhaps lessen the frequency of doctor visits (as well), which will reduce the cost of prisons,” said Poirier.

Read the rest of the article.

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