Monday, April 27, 2009

This Doesn't Add Up

Near the end of Terry Giliam's dystopian classic Brazil, the hero is arrested and, well, informed of his options:

Either you plead guilty to, say, seven or eight of the charges, which is going to help keep costs down within your means, or you can borrow a sum, to be negotiated, from us at very competitive rates.

We can offer you something at, say, 11.5 percent over 30 years, but you may have to buy insurance to qualify for this. If you prefer something more specific, say, against electrical charges over 70 pounds . . ..

Plead guilty, it's easier and cheaper for everyone.
We're headed that way, apparently. It's bad enough that poverty probably means getting an overworked public defender. Can't we avoid charging them for the cost of locking them up?
A night’s stay in a new 268-bed lockup in southwest Missouri will get you uniformed pants and shirt, a jail bunk and three squares a day.

All for just $45. Stay a year, and you’ll shell out $16,425.

Like other incarceration agencies across the country, the Taney County jail is charging inmates who have been sentenced to its facility.
There's something unseemly about locking someone up and then charging them for the pleasure. After all, it's not as if they'll be able to really work it off while in the klink. The cost of incarceration - like the cost of police, courts, and the rest - is part of the cost of maintaining a civilized society.

If we're not willing to pay to lock up that many people, maybe we're locking up too many people, huh?

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