Seems like inflation is hitting everyone these days, even inmates serving time at the Armstrong County Jail, who will see co-pays on everything from TV rentals to trips to the dentist hiked effective March 1st.
But like everyone else, prisoners are biting the bullet and accepting the fee increases with stoic resolve, according to county jail officials.
Warden Dave Hogue said, “We posted a memo on the proposed new fee schedules and there was only one negative response from our current jail population of 147 inmates.”
The fee increases won unanimous approval at the February 9th Prison Board meeting. Members of the Board voting at the meeting included County Commissioners Dave Battaglia, Bob Bower and Rich Fink; Sheriff Larry Crawford and County Controller Myra Miller. District Attorney Scott Andreassi was absent.
Commissioner Rich Fink said, “These fees relieve a financial burden on taxpayers and also teach offenders a lesson of behaving in a responsible way. The cost of providing medical care is constantly increasing and Armstrong County jail is by no means insulated from this problem.”
Under the new rate schedule, the booking (processing) fee, charged to all prisoners entering jail, will increase from $25.00 to $30.00. Doctor visits (in-house) and prescription drugs will each be upped a dollar to $11.00 and $6.00 respectively. Reading glasses will jump from $6.00 to $10.00 a pair.
Outside medical services such as trips to Armstrong County Memorial Hospital’s emergency room, or to a physician or dentist will go from $20.00 to $25.00. Warden Hogue said, “That is still a bargain, considering the skyrocketing price of gasoline and the fact that two correctional officers must accompany the prisoner to an appointment.”
Commissioner Bob Bower said, “With the Governor’s decrease of 20 percent to Human services throughout the Commonwealth, the savings at the prison will give us a chance to review where we can help Human Services maintain their programs in the county.
“Inmate commissary money helps reduce the operating expenses at the prison along with the County Commissioner’s Association’s Health Care Program that provides for inmate doctor and hospital visit,” Bower added.
Deputy Warden Kevin Shepard said daily rental rate for a 12-inch TV will be adjusted from $2.25 to $2.50 per day.
The TV rental program generated $25,791.75 in fees for the county last year. He said the program pays for itself and costs the taxpayers nothing.
Shepard also noted, “Use of a TV is a privilege that can be taken away if an inmate breaks the rules. It is another tool we can, and have used, to control behavior.”
Room and board charged to prisoners on work release programs did not escape economic forces either. The daily cost for someone working at a job paying $8.00 or less per hour will raise $2.00 to $13.00. Rates increase incrementally for those earning higher wages up to a maximum daily rate of $22.00 for an inmate working at a job paying $14.00 or more an hour.
Shepard noted the cost of room and board still includes breakfast, a packed lunch for on the job, and dinner, plus laundry services for work clothing in addition to prison uniforms. He said the increases would help defray some of the jail’s combined general fund expenses paid to physicians, dentists, ambulance transport companies and medication providers. That sum amounted to $230,797 last year.
Other fees collected from prisoners in 2011 and assigned to the general fund were: medical co-pays, $13,963.58, and booking fees, $18,942.28.