The board of supervisors in Riverside County, California wants to start charging inmates rent. Supervisor Jeff Stone introduced an ordinance—unanimously approved by the board—that would charge prisoners about $140 for each day they serve in jail.
Stone told The Huffington Post:
If the parolee does not have liquid funds to pay, the County will put a lien against the property to receive payment when the property is sold. The County will do the same on the parolee's parents' property if that's the only way to get the money.
The $140 would also go towards expenses such as drug tests, medical care, parole costs, and even public defenders for inmates.
This policy would basically force prisoners to participate in a government monopoly. With no competition and the ability to compel "consumers" of its service, officials gain unilateral control in determining what services prisoners get and at what price, with no pressure to reduce or even maintain costs. Based on Stone's initial estimate, each prisoner would be paying around $51,000 a year for all the luxuries of jail. Texas prisons' public-private partnerships proves it can be done for cheaper, but don't count on diminished financial liability to bring about those sort of improvements.
Stone's ordinance would also result in disastrous conflicts of interest. He expects "the measure would bring in $3 million to $5 million a year. " When government officials have a monetary impetus for every additional prisoner behind bars, that creates an incentive for dubious convictions and arrests.
Incarceration already substantially diminishes economic mobility, hampering ex-prisoners' reintegration into society. Depriving prisoners of any remaining capital won't help.
A question for Stone: if prisoners don't pay their rent, will they be evicted?