At a county jail in Indiana, a sheriff came up with a plan for inmates to “repay” their debt to society in a way that would also serve as a deterrent to crime. However, it’s what he is now forcing prisoners to do that has some citizens arguing that it’s simply “cruel” and “excessive.”
Clinton County Sheriff Rich Kelly is his community’s protector. His job doesn’t only encompass arresting bad guys — he’s also tasked with the burden of reducing crime. As such, he knew that simply jailing offenders wasn’t enough to make criminals think twice before breaking the law.
In an effort to not only deter crime but prevent repeat offenders, Kelly decided that he had to drastically change the system to better fit his community. It was then that he hatched a plan for making offenders pay back their debts to society — literally.
According to WTTV-TV, Sheriff Rich Kelly has officially launched an ordinance to charge each inmate up to $30 per day in an effort to repay hard-working, law-abiding taxpayers. With more than 150 inmates staying in the jail at the time, the new policy would help pay for the already costly stay that offenders rack up.
“It is a deterrent to be here at the facility,” said Sheriff Kelly. “Taking care of this facility has been on the backs of taxpayers.”
Kelly estimated that taxpayers in Clinton County contribute around $4 million to his office every year, most of which goes to provide inmates with food and the jail with maintenance. He hopes that the daily fee will reduce the burden on civilians, leaving each inmate responsible for up to $810 per month or $10,860 per year.
“If it deterred one person from making a bad decision than it is worth it to me,” he said. “As far as them incurring debt, that’s a responsibility that every adult has. We all incur debt.”
Only individuals who make more than twice the federal poverty level will be charged, and the policy will be thoroughly reviewed on a yearly basis to ensure its success. Additionally, the “pay-to-stay” fine would only go into effect after the individual stays for 72 hours. According to Commissioner Joshua Uitts, it’s perfectly legal.
“According to Indiana code, this is an option we have to use to help recoup costs that we have not been doing in the past, so yeah, it was prescribed in state statue,” Commissioner Uitts said.
However, not everyone is on board with Sheriff Kelly’s ordinance. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana is calling the decision “bad policy” and insists that it’s far too harsh to expect inmates to pay for their room and board, WXIN-TV reports. The ACLU appears to claim that the criminals are locked up because of “a problem of our own making.”
“Just because it is legal doesn’t mean it’s right. Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s good policy,” ACLU Indiana’s Executive Director Jane Henegar said. “There are many ways that we can help individuals restart their lives. Burdening them with excessive and unnecessary debt to solve a problem of our own making, not the individual’s, but our making, that seems cruel and just plain bad policy,” Henegar said.
The ACLU is fighting back against the ordinance, suggesting that making law-breakers pay back their debt to taxpayers is inhumane. Even with Sheriff Kelly’s stipulations, the organization insists that it only further hinders offenders from re-entering society.
“Yes, we all have debt. If we are responsible, we take on debt while we have employment, and we have the ability to repay those debts. We’re talking about incarcerating people and taking away their ability to earn a wage and yet sadly with a debt,” Henegar said.
Henegar argued that inmates often have more debt than the average citizen. Many incur child support and legal fees on top of the usual financial burdens that one has.
“Twice the national poverty level is still pretty low-income, and again, if you already have obligations that you are occurring while you’re incarcerated; child support, rent, etc., then you pile this on top, then already low-income can get overwhelmed,” Henegar said.
The ACLU is taking a closer look at state law in order to determine if a lawsuit is warranted. For now, Sheriff Rich Kelly will go ahead with his policy as planned.
Some have expressed that charging inmates while they are unable to earn an income is unfairly cumbersome, while others maintain that if they do the crime, they’re accepting the consequences. Only time will tell whether the new policy is effective at deterring crime.