The Herald Bulletin

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February 7, 2014

Nevada county charging for jail meals; ACLU upset

RENO, Nev. — A northern Nevada county is moving ahead with what may be a first-in-the-nation plan to charge county jail inmates for food and medical care, despite objections from the American Civil Liberties Union that it's cruel and unusual punishment and could lead to a court battle.

The Elko County Commission on Wednesday approved Sheriff Jim Pitts' proposal to charge inmates $6 a day for meals, $10 for each doctor visit and $5 for initial booking into the jail, a move he says will save county taxpayers millions of dollars a year.

"Why should the people of Elko County pay for somebody else's meals in jail?" said Commissioner Grant Gerber, a backer of the plan who thinks the fees should be higher.

Tod Story, executive director of the ACLU Nevada, said that depending on how indigents and others who can't afford the fees are treated, the county could be in for a legal fight 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."

"There is no value in trying to punish them further than the sentence that they are already serving," Story said.

Pitts said it costs about $85 per day per inmate to cover the costs of food, services, housing and utilities at the facility with a capacity of 120 — a total of about $10,000 daily.

"We're not the Hilton," he told the Elko Daily Free Press, which first reported approval of the plan on its website Thursday. "These guys shouldn't have a free ride."

While it's not uncommon in some states for counties to charge inmates a small fee or copayment for medical care, National Sheriff's Association operations director Fred Wilson said he's not aware of any charging for meals.

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