THE INDEPUNDIT: Picking up the tab on jail time

Evonne Ermey

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Let me tell you a story. Two years ago, a girl I know was charged with a DUI. A while back, I ran into her (at a bar of all places) where she went into an anxiety-riddled tangent regarding her conviction. You see, after being convicted she had neglected to pay any of her fines, attend even a single hour of community service or DUI class. Needless to say she had a warrant out for her arrest. To top things off, she had been pulled over during that two-year lapse, charged with driving on a suspended license, and didn’t take care of that either.

This is not meant to be a character evaluation or even a cautionary tale. Some people are just grossly irresponsible. This doesn’t necessarily make them bad people. The point isn’t about what got her into trouble, it’s about what happened afterward.

I ran into her again a few weeks ago, at the same bar, where she was happily sipping away at her beverage seemingly without a care in the world. I ventured to ask her what had happened with her DUI dilemma and she told me a most interesting story.

It seems that she had finally returned to court. When she got there she was given the option of paying a couple of thousand dollars in fines or doing jail time, after which she would be released back into the wild, debt free. Being strapped for cash, she opted to go to jail.

A couple days later she turned herself in at said jail and was taken into custody. She was ushered onto a bus, where she rode in what she described as “a cage with holes in it” for several hours to her final destination. Upon arrival, she was organized with a group of other women and they were instructed to strip, were issued prison garb, and then received physical and psychological evaluations.

After this long and demoralizing process, she was finally deposited in a cell and fed a reasonable dinner, after which she was promptly released from custody.

She did a whopping nine hours of time.

After the last syllable had fallen from her lips and images of perforated cages and humiliating strip searches began to dissolve into “real” time, where we sat holding cold drinks in a cozy bar, we gave a toast to freedom.

As I took a long medicating sip of beer, my mind began to chew over the fiscal implications of her story.

In order to be forgiven her debt of approximately $4,000, she had allowed herself to be taken into the prison system. Once there the state processed, transported, clothed, physically evaluated, fed and psychoanalyzed her before letting her go. It must have cost the state a pretty penny to pick up the tab for all that.

I know the prison system is overcrowded, hence the “catch and release” method as exemplified in this situation, but I also know that California spends more of its general fund on incarceration than education, and after hearing this story, it’s no wonder.
I’m not saying that the girl deserved to rot in jail. What I’m saying is, this seems like an awfully expensive way to psyche somebody out.

They should have stuck to their guns with that $4,000 fine.
Cheers to payment plans.

Evonne Ermey is the City Times features editor

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