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Go Directly to Jail, Do Not Pass Go, Pay $200

By Shannon in News on Feb 11, 2007 8:36PM

Here's the scenario: Cook County's in the hole by about $500 million. Infamous Board President Todd Stroger wants to slash jobs without raising taxes, which has many people up in arms, including newly elected Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. Stroger wants to dispose of some of Dart's courtroom staff and police force. What's a rookie sheriff of the most populated county in Illinois to do?

go to jailTaking a cue from downstate Kankakee County, Dart is mulling over the possibility of charging inmates in Cook County Jail for merely being incarcerated. As Dart sees it, detainees have roughly $5 million just sitting around in accounts every year. Incoming convicts would be charged a one-time "booking fee" when they start their sentences, an approximate charge of $10 or $15 a pop. A co-pay could also be arranged for when inmates need to see a doctor or dentist. Those under house arrest could be shaken down as well, perhaps just for the privilege of not being stuck in jail. Lastly, prisoners who violate rules could be charged fines, presumably commensurate with the severity of the violation.

With 10,000+ inmates a day coming into Cook County Jail at 31st and California, the extra revenue could be a real boon for the cash-strapped county. However, instead of flooding the general fund with all this moolah, Dart wants to hoard most of the money exclusively for law enforcement. Bully for him, but that sounds like a big "screw you" move to the rest of the county. Detractors of the plan also point out that criminals aren't known for having a lot of cash to begin with; hence their line of work. What would be done with a penniless prisoner? Would they be forced to stay in jail that much longer for not having money to cough up?