Financial side of criminal justice explored
There is a sense of justice prevailing when a criminal gets punishment, whether it is punishment by death or punishment by time. Television shows like “Law & Order,” “CSI” and countless others exploit this quality by emotionally investing us in the plight of the fictional victims. Unfortunately, these shows rarely go into the behind-the-scenes aspects of crime, the most important of which is the price tag attached. Crime is not only expensive for the criminal, but for the victims, the police force and the rest of society.
Sheriff Bill Massee of the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office stated that the cost of incarceration and probation has gone up, especially for local government.
“We run a bare-bones staffing in our jail,” Massee said. When the BCSO moved to its new facilities, an assessment was done to see what sort of security was needed. “Because of the economy, we went with what we could afford. We don’t have any fat to cut out of this budget.”
According to Massee, inmates in jails in the U.S. are the only class of person guaranteed safety and health benefits under the Constitution. This is because if an inmate gets sick, the state has to pay for it.
“We’ve paid for heart bypass surgery … because we’re obligated to do it,” Massee said.
The sheriff’s office also has the added burden of transporting inmates to doctor’s appointments outside of the jail, emergency room visits and guarding an inmate if they are admitted to a hospital.
According to Massee, the budget for BCSO is $2.9 million, and that only covers fixed costs — feeding the inmates, paying the staff and electricity. The greatest strain on them, however, is the inmates with mental health issues.
“Twenty percent of our inmates have diagnosed mental health issues,” Massee said.
In January of 2012, the cost of mental health expenses was $3,300 for pharmaceutical products, but according to Massee, this was a low month. In March the amount shot up to $6,900.
“We’ve been averaging 250 inmates per month … the cost per inmate per day is about $32,” Massee said.
Out of those 250 inmates, usually about 60 inmates have mental health issues. Baldwin County has one of the worst economic standings in Georgia according to Massee, and the sheriff’s office is feeling the strain.
Another costly issue is the death penalty and probation.
Junior psychology and criminal justice double major Leslie Albrycht said “the death penalty is expensive because of all appeals. The drugs used in execution also cost a lot … And when a person is on probation, they have to pay a fee.”
Marci Day, a probation officer in Eatonton, explained that when on probation, a person has certain conditions they have to follow.
“People on probation may have to pay fines, depending on what the judge orders,” Day said.
People on probation also have to submit to drug tests and be checked on periodically by their probation officer. Some of the cost, then, would be on the offender. Sheriff Massee stated that probation is not a direct cost to the jail, but that it still cost the local government money.
Whether the cost relies on state, federal or the offenders wallet – incarceration and probation are hefty fines.