Lawmakers Consider Expanding Prison Rent Program

Getting thrown in jail means you can kiss your freedom goodbye. But starting this week in Massachusetts it'll cost you even more than that.

Sheriff Tom Hodgson of Bristol County is now charging prisoners $5 dollars a day rent for every night they spend in jail. Hodgson says it will help defray the $36,000 dollars per year taxpayers spend to clothe, feed and house each inmate.

"While inmates are in there buying things with their personal money, like candy and better sweat pants, and what-have-you, the taxpayers are still being asked to carry the full ride," said Hodgson, whose tight ship includes a ban on smoking in his jails and a return to the chain gang.

Hodson already charges inmates for all their haircuts, medical care and transportation, and this latest proposal has inmates even edgier because they say the program penalizes their families who might have to pick up the bill.  Inmates have protested by clogging their toilets and flooding their cells. 

Many politicians like the idea, however, and one state representative is trying to make it a statewide rule.

"In these financial times, everybody is suffering a little bit. And I don't see why people convicted of crimes being housed, clothed and fed by the people of the Commonwealth ought to be exempt from the financial suffering," said state Rep. Francis Marini, R-Plymouth.

Marini's amendment added to the state budget has already been adopted by the state's House and is being debated soon in the Senate.

Hodgson admits that about half the inmates are too poor to pay the five bucks. So, at best the program will add only about $9 million a year to the Department of Corrections $400 million budget. Still, he says it sends a message.

"Hey, look, when you get something you have to pay for it and that's really what it all boils down to, preparing them for re-entry into society," he said.