Editorial: A good ruling on paying for jail

Published 7:48 am Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Minnesota Supreme Court made the right decision in ruling Thursday against the state “pay to stay” statute.

It said counties indeed can charge inmates for costs of confinement — but only after they have been convicted of a crime.

Reading the ruling reveals the case mostly was an argument over the word “offender.” Is an offender a person charged with a crime or convicted of one? The court concluded it is the latter.

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However, we would go one step further to argue that the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized the liberties of freedom to act and freedom to move since its early days. An arrest has long been associated with the removal of liberty.

When a person is arrested and confined, it is against their will that the government is holding them in custody. Therefore, it is the government that ought to pay for room, board, jail uniform and other costs of confinement, especially when the person has not been convicted of a crime.

We’d like to see pay to stay terminated altogether. A common result of pay to stay is judges are less likely to sentence poor people to jail because they know they can’t afford it. Is that fair? No. Judges also keep in mind the cost of jail when handing out fines, too. Is that fair? No.

And what happens when a person is in jail and can’t afford to pay the bill when they can get out? Jails can’t throw them back in jail. It goes to a collection service. If needed, a judgment is made.

Pay to stay sounds well and good when politicians in St. Paul vote on laws, but in practice, it creates more problems.