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Thursday 21 August 2014

US prison to charge inmates for food and medical care

Heather Saul

Published 08/02/2014 | 19:58

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A prison in Nevada will charge inmates for food and medical care

A prison in Nevada County will charge inmates for food and medical care, despite fierce opposition from human rights group who argue it amounts to a cruel and unusual punishment.

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On Wednesday, The Elko County Commission approved Sheriff Jim Pitts' proposal to charge inmates at the Elko County jail $6 (£3.55) a day for meals, $10 (£6) for each doctor visit and $5 (£3) for initial booking into the jail.

Over the next few weeks, fees will be deducted from an individual inmate's commissary account, where family and friends can deposit money for the inmate to purchase items such as shampoo and envelopes.

Those without any 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.

Mr Pitts told The Elko Daily Free Press it costs up to $10,000 (£6,093) to pay for the costs of food, services, housing and utilities for all 120 inmates in the prison.

"We're not the Hilton," he said. "These guys shouldn't have a free ride."

Tod Story, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Nevada, said that depending on how those who can't afford the fees are treated, the county could face a legal battle 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.”

He argued that "food is not even a question", as once people enter the prison system, they automatically become the responsibility of the state.

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.

Mr Pitts said: "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."

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