Elko jails first in nation to charge for doctors, lunches

Associated Press
RENO — A northern Nevada county is moving ahead with what may be a first-in-the-nation plan to charge county jail inmates for food and medical care, despite objections from the American Civil Liberties Union that it’s cruel and unusual punishment and could lead to a court battle.

The Elko County Commission last week approved Sheriff Jim Pitts’ proposal to charge inmates $6 a day for meals, $10 for each doctor visit and $5 for initial booking into the jail, a move he says will save county taxpayers millions of dollars a year.
“Why should the people of Elko County pay for somebody else’s meals in jail?” said Commissioner Grant Gerber, a backer of the plan who thinks the fees should be higher.

Tod Story, executive director of the ACLU Nevada, said that depending on how indigents and others who can’t afford the fees are treated, the county could be in for a legal fight over the edict to prisoners that there is no free lunch.
“I was aghast that anyone was even thinking of doing this,” he told The Associated Press. “It is unconstitutional — cruel and unusual punishment.”

“There is no value in trying to punish them further than the sentence that they are already serving,” Story said.
Pitts said it costs about $85 per day per inmate to cover the costs of food, services, housing and utilities at the facility with a capacity of 120 — a total of about $10,000 daily.

“We’re not the Hilton,” he told the Elko Daily Free Press, which first reported approval of the plan on its website Thursday. “These guys shouldn’t have a free ride.”

Under the new policy, Elko County inmates will be exempt from the fees if they work at the jail or are incarcerated for less than 24 hours. Inmates ultimately found innocent will be reimbursed.

In the coming weeks, the fees will be deducted from an individual inmate’s commissary account, where family and friends can deposit money for the inmate to order items such as candy, shampoo and envelopes.

Those with no money would see their account accrue a negative balance, and that balance would remain in the event the inmate was released but later returned to jail for whatever reason.

“It has nothing to do with them getting out of jail, but if they ever come back with any money, that will be applied to what they owe us,” Pitts said Friday. “All I’m doing is taking my cut first, before they buy their candies. They need to pay for their food first before they get their dessert.”

Pitts said the fees for doctor visits are necessary to help combat an increase in the number of inmates who appear to be faking illnesses.

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  1. Glen Saunders says:

    I agree with what Elko is doing. I’m sure the ACLU can find something else to occupy their time.

  2. I don’t see how the ACLU can even define this as ‘punishment’. Elko is not saying the inmates will be denied food, but simply that there will be a bill attached with their stay. Besides, they would most likely spend more for food if they weren’t in jail. I think Elko should take it a step more and add the fees to their fines, rather than only keeping a record of the negative balance.

  3. Mandy Caron says:

    I fully agree with this decision, to make citizens pay for anothers crimes and lack of getting thier act together so they can never fully experience the consequence of thier actions is wrong. The fines should be higher and its about time they start reaping the consequences of thier actions, the jail is not a day care where citizens can willfully commit crimes and go there to be lazy. Time to grow up folks.

  4. GOOD it is about time!

  5. Stephen Porter says:

    Wow! Cant wait until this one gets struck down by the supreme court. I love when a sheriff acts like a tough guy and then gets his butt handed to him by the aclu and supreme court. Elko county sheriff is one of the worst. They pride themselves on “kickin ass” and protecting the hate filled conservative way of life instead of protecting the rights of those who cant protect themselves. Im sure there will be somesort of large scale protest coming to Elko soon.

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