Nearly every state lets prisons and jails charge inmates for their own incarceration — room, board, clothing, and doctor’s visits — in a phenomenon called “pay-to-stay.”
We don’t know exactly how many prisons and jails take advantage of “pay to stay.” The latest survey, done in 2005, found that 90 percent of jails surveyed charged inmates fees of one kind of another. In an era of tight budgets, the practice is probably even more widespread today. …
In many of the statutes the Brennan Center analyzed, states only charge room and board to inmates who are on work release or have a prison job, on the logic that they’re the only ones making money while in prison. (It seems possible that some inmates might be dissuaded from taking prison jobs if they know some of their wages are going to be garnished.) Others take the money out of inmates’ commissary accounts — which are usually filled by family members on the outside — or bank accounts.That’s particularly worrisome when inmates are being charged for their own medical care — especially when, as many states do, prisoners get charged a fee for every doctor’s visit they request. Most states set that fee pretty low, around $5, but Texas charges a $100 annual fee for any inmate who asks to see a doctor.
As the Brennan Center points out, some inmates are afraid to ask to see a doctor if they know their families will get hit with a fee for it — which increases the risk that an inmate won’t get treated for a contagious disease that will spread throughout the facility.