Sunday, August 02, 2009

The "Madoff bill" - convict 61727-054 you owe us $3,750,000!

Criminal justice
Room service not included
July 30th 2009 NEW YORK from The Economist print edition
Should prisoners pay for being in prison?
PAY-IF-YOU-GO will be the new model for the criminal justice system if Jim Tedisco, a New York state assemblyman, gets his way. Mr Tedisco, a Republican who wants to “protect law-abiding citizens’ tax dollars,” has introduced a bill that would require rich inmates to pay for their involuntary stay in New York’s prisons. The state spends more than $25,000 per inmate each year, more than $1 billion in total.
The bill has been dubbed the “Madoff bill,” after the financier-turned-swindler who was sentenced in June to 150 years in jail. Why should taxpayers have to pay for Mr. Madoff’s prison-sentence, asks Mr Tedisco, when he has already cost people so much? The bill would require people with incomes of $40,000 or more to pay for part or all of their incarceration costs, depending on the size of their assets.
In theory, the bill sounds like justice delivered to Mr. Madoff and other crooks. But ironically the law, if it passes, would not apply to the man who inspired it: Mr Madoff is in a federal prison, not a state or local one. The millionaires residing in prisons are, in fact, few and far between.
According to the ACLU’s National Prison Project, 80% of convicted felons have incomes below the poverty line.
A similar bill that requires inmates to pay for their incarceration was introduced in New Jersey this year; so was another one in Georgia, which was rejected. Mr. Tedisco is urging New York’s two senators to promote a bill in Washington, DC, in the hope of taking his movement national.
Some cash-strapped states have reduced the number of meals they serve to prisoners from three to two a day. So the idea of making crooks, especially white-collar ones, pay their way could take off. But others say it would be a mistake. Jail-birds often receive high fines, and adding to their debt might just encourage more crime. According to Sara Totonchi of the Southern Centre for Human Rights, an organisation that fought the Georgia bill, it could also burden convicts’ families by making them financially responsible for their relative’s jail-time. And that might breed yet more trouble.


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