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Johnston Sheriff Wants Inmates to Pay Rent

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SMITHFIELD — Most people make payments to live in their home or apartment. Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell thinks inmates should have to do the same.

Bizzell wants to enforce an old state law that says counties can require inmates to pay to stay in jail.

It is not a Hilton, but for inmates, the room and three meals a day are free. That could be changing in Johnston County.

Bizzell says it is wrong for inmates to get free room and board while taxpayers foot the bill. His idea is to charge the inmates $5 a day to stay in jail.

"We have to furnish jailers, we've got to furnish food for all of the inmates three times a day. We've got to furnish electricity. We've got to furnish clean water," explained Bizzell.

Charging inmates is not a new idea. A 34-year-old state law says $5 dollars is fine, although most jails have not charged it in years.

Mary Browning says it should stay that way. Her son is in jail, and she says he pays enough already for jail clothing, toiletries and snacks. Inmates also have to pay up to $10 for some non-essential medical care.

"I don't think it's fair because they have started charging the boys for T-shirts, underwear and socks. Before, they didn't charge them for that. The people could bring them their clothes," Browing said.

Jailers could collect the fee from money the inmates bring in or from donations family members bring. It could also be added to an inmate's court cost.

"It's really a small amount for anybody to pay for a day's lodging, food and the supervision that the staff has to provide in the jail," said jail administrator Frank Gunter.

Officials at the Attorney General's office said that they did not immediately know of any outstanding lawsuits against this rule.

If anyone is an inmate there and goes through the court system and is deemed not guilty or the case is thrown out, he will not have to pay that $5.00.

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Brian Bowman, Reporter
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