Taxpayers will cover the room and board, but those heading for a stint at York County Prison will soon have to pay $25 for the pleasure of shopping for items available through the commissary.
Starting April 1, incoming prisoners will have to pay the processing fee if they want to use the prison store, which sells everything from haircuts to potato chips.
The prison's board on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve a new policy, under which the money generated by the fee will be allocated to the millions of dollars inmates owe toward county court costs, fines, and restitution to victims, said vice president county commissioner Doug Hoke, president of the board.
The board has been mulling a policy for months, with Tuesday's policy a compromise from an earlier proposal to start collecting between 20 and 30 percent of all deposits made into each inmate's commissary fund. Clerk of Courts Don O'Shell pitched the idea last year, hoping to increase collections.
"I think it's a solid compromise," O'Shell said Tuesday. "Every time the county of York and the court system comes in contact with a defendant, we need to be reminding them they have an obligation to the taxpayers and the victims. It was really frustrating ... when we missed that opportunity with people incarcerated in our own facilities."
Some county officials had opposed that idea, they said, because the commissary accounts are typically fed with money from inmates' family members; they argued that taking a cut of the money the family members deposit amounted to punishing the family instead of the prisoner.
President commissioner Steve Chronister said Tuesday that family members will end up paying the $25, "because who else would pay it?" But he said he voted for the policy because it was the wish of the majority of the board.
"Now let's just make it work," he said.
Under the new system, the single $25 fee would be taken when the prisoner is processed into the county, but all future commissary deposits would continue going directly to the purchases the prisoner makes. Those who don't pay the $25 fee won't be able to use the commissary to buy goods.
Profits from the operation of the commissary are used to provide inmates with classes, such as GED programs and culinary training, that improve their chances of getting employment after they get out of prison.
The $25 fee is expected to generate about $200,000 per year from the prison's estimated 8,000 annual inmate admissions.
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