County to charge inmates for food, doctor

2014-02-06T06:00:00Z County to charge inmates for food, doctor Elko Daily Free Press

ELKO — Between food, services, housing and utilities, taxpayers are footing a bill of about $85 per day for each inmate locked in the Elko County Jail, according to Sheriff Jim Pitts.

With a jail population that’s almost constantly at the facility’s 120 inmate capacity, lock-up expenses add up to more than $10,000 per day and millions of dollars each year, according to Pitts’ estimation.

But the sheriff has proposed shifting a portion of those costs onto the inmates.

The county commission on Wednesday wholly supported the idea, which outlines a $6 daily fee for food, $10 for each doctor’s visit and $5 for booking.

Not only is the change a fiscal concern, Pitts argued, but it’s unjust for law-abiding residents to pay the full price for incarceration.

“These guys shouldn’t have a free ride,” he said after the meeting. “Society shouldn’t be paying for their wrongs.”

Payment will work through the jail commissary system.

Right now, family or friends can put money on an inmate’s account, which he or she can use to order items such as shampoo, envelopes and snack foods from a jail kiosk.

Once the new payment requirements are implemented, which Pitts estimated will take effect mid-month, the cost of food will be automatically deducted from the inmate’s account. Inmates with no money will still be fed but accrue a negative balance.

As for medical treatment, Pitts said inmates are gaming the system.

The sheriff said he recently received a call from a woman who was wanted on a warrant. She asked about the jail doctor and mentioned she had “something on (her) head that needed to get looked at,” before agreeing to turn herself in.

“Once they hit our jail, they’re sick. And then when they get into the cells they talk to each other. They say, ‘Oh, you got aspirin for that? Or you got a prescription for that?’ So everyone in that cell … (claims to have) the same disease,” Pitts said.

At this time, the jail plans to charge inmates $10 for a doctor’s visit and $5 for a prescription.

Commissioner Grant Gerber asked whether the price was too low. Pitts responded that it probably was too low. He said he’d like to begin charging $10 per visit and raise the price at a later time.

Inmates won’t be billed for medical emergencies.

Pitts said an announcement about the changes would be made to the inmates soon.

Defense attorney Brian Green, who was critical of the quality of food and medical care available to inmates, argued in a phone interview the justice system could take measures to reduce the jail population, thereby alleviating the cost to taxpayers.

In Green’s estimation, judges are setting higher bails, imposing lengthier jail sentences and opting to keep those awaiting court locked up instead of releasing them on their own recognizance with a summons.

“Feeding and housing them and providing them a proper environment and proper care, that’s their responsibility once they decide to house them,” he said.

Admittedly, Green said, some people deserve heavy-handed sentences and should remain behind bars.

Green was also leery of charging credit to the inmates’ commissary accounts for meals.

Pitts disagreed that the jail was holding people unnecessarily. Because of capacity concerns, he said, inmates facing low-level charges are being released almost immediately after being booked.

“We’re OR’ing everybody we can,” the sheriff said.

And he responded to food complaints by saying the meals are designed to meet nutritional needs, but nothing more.

“We’re not the Hilton,” he said. “We’re not there to give them what they want. … We shouldn’t be giving them anything over what’s necessary.”

Pitts said having a negative balance will not prevent inmates from being released. However, if they are arrested again, the negative balance will carry over.

Certain inmates would be exempt. Sentenced inmates who work at the jail, known as trusties; people incarcerated for less than 24 hours; and inmates who are found not guilty will be reimbursed.

The county commission approved a general request to allow the jail to charge inmates, but because of an issue with the wording of the proposal and agenda item, it wasn’t able to approve specifics. However, the commission said it would do so at its next meeting.

Copyright 2015 Elko Daily Free Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(10) Comments

  1. Ruger454
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    Ruger454 - February 14, 2014 7:54 am
    This is an excellent way to provide convicted and incarcerated criminals with the equal opportunity to participate in and learn from the way the world really works. Far from an election year publicity stunt or "making law," this is an idea whose time has come. The law establishes that county sheriffs are responsible for the operation of the county jail, but it does not tell the sheriff how exactly to do that. The sheriff is not departing from or making law, he's doing his job.
  2. blackjack
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    blackjack - February 11, 2014 10:02 am
    And what's he going to do if you don't pay? Put you in jail? Kate595, is right, enforce the laws don't make them.
  3. Kate595
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    Kate595 - February 10, 2014 8:28 am
    Sheriff Pitts may want to refer to his Job Description manual , if indeed he has one - - the function of those in Law Enforcement is to do just that - enforce laws - not make laws - making laws is the function of the Legislature.
  4. Kate595
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    Kate595 - February 09, 2014 8:29 pm
    Shouldn't any medical costs for the prisoners be covered by funds from the Indigent Fund which is already in existence and paid for by the taxpayers of Elko county? Does anyone know how much money is in that fund?

    What will Sheriff Pitts do if the prisoner has no relatives the buy his/her food? Let the prisoner starve? Time to invoke the Geneva convention if that were to happen.??



  5. PetraFide
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    PetraFide - February 09, 2014 4:54 am
    The effort to reduce taxpayers' burden is great, but this will only drive up the county's cost for what appears as a PR stunt to get Pitt more visibility. 1) probably violates Separation of Power by imposing a sentence the judge did not impose; 2) probably violates Due Process by imposing an additional penalty without hearing or adequate notice; 3) probably is a govt Taking under 5th amendment. This probably turns into unnecessary legal costs to defend clear violations of constitutional law
  6. fredge
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    fredge - February 06, 2014 5:20 pm
    Trying to outdo Joe Arpaio in running a jail?
  7. tricky0ff
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    tricky0ff - February 06, 2014 3:15 pm
    "Society shouldn’t be paying for their wrongs"- No just their friends and families, right? Guilty by association in the eyes of the law I guess. And boloney sandwiches are nutritional? I'm not defending the inmates for messing up but Brian Green is right.
  8. karenkarenn
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    karenkarenn - February 06, 2014 12:56 pm
    I wonder if people will start to go to Jail just to have a Doctor see them for $10.00 and $5.00 for prescriptions. That alot cheaper than out of jail.. YES, I know that they are just starting and are just talking about it but.... that's an invite right there.
  9. karenkarenn
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    karenkarenn - February 06, 2014 12:53 pm
    Pearl---- they DO in Elko County.
  10. Pearl Turner
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    Pearl Turner - February 06, 2014 12:23 pm
    Good idea if it is lawful. People who are convicted and placed on probation should also be required to perform community service which benefits the community.
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