Local News

Plan Would Make Inmates Help Pay the Cost of Incarceration

Posted January 12, 2000 6:00 a.m. EST

— North Carolina spends millions of taxpayer dollars to keep inmates in jail. Now there is a plan to make prisoners pay for their crimes with more than just time.

Representative Steve Woodof Guilford County says prisoners should bear some of the financial burden. Heproposes charging inmates$10 a day for every day they are in prison.

"The taxpayers are paying the bill at $20,000 a year. Those who have been incarcerated and realize their mistake, many of them say, 'This is a debt that I owe to the state,'" says Wood.

Inmate Michael Nardelli has to pay his victims $50,000 when he gets out of prison. He believes Wood's idea would end up costing the state in the long run.

"You're just mounting more debt," says Nardelli. "I think you're setting the inmate up with a bill at the end all ready to fail again."

Inmate Harvey Letterlough agrees. In prison on a second-degree murder charge, he says the 20 years of work he has provided for pennies a day is part of his payment.

"I think my labor to the Department of Correction since I've been here is sufficient," he says.

Wood's idea about inmates paying up got a lukewarm reception last year. He says he is willing to scale down the amount inmates would owe to get the bill passed.

"It's just a beginning point, a suggested beginning point for the debate," Wood says.

That debate will likely start up again in May, during the short session of theGeneral Assembly.

Still, there are questions about whether the proposal is constitutional and how much would it cost to collect the money.

The $10 a day reimbursement would not cover the cost of incarceration.

It costs about $63 a day to house an inmate, adding up to more than $23,000 a year per prisoner.

With 31,000 prisoners behind bars in the state, more than $719 million in tax dollars are spent each year. That figure does not include the cost at county jails.