Jail Looking for Ways to Save: Could Inmates Pay for Meals?

By: Meghan Dwyer
By: Meghan Dwyer

Q: Are any other jails in Illinois making convicted inmates pay for their own meals?

A: Cook County's Sheriff is trying to. Their lawyers are still looking into it, but like Sheriff Meyers said Cook County tends to march to the beat of its own drum and what works there wouldn't necessarily work here. They have nine times the number of inmates and different rules.

Each meal costs the jail 82 cents which makes for $2.46 a day and nearly 900-thousand dollars a year. Legally only about one hundred inmates could be forced to pay for their own meals which could save the jail 90 thousand dollars. That's only if they could all afford to pay.

ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- The Winnebago County Jail averaged a thousand inmates per day in October, which is the highest number in history. That means the jail is desperate to bring in more revenue - or at least cut costs wherever it can.

State law mandates the jail feed inmates with "wholesome" foods three times a day. That costs about $900,000 a year at 82 cents a meal.

The Sheriff says he could force some of them to pay for their own meals, but only inmates who have already been convicted of crimes. And convicted criminals only make up 10 percent of the population.

Making the 100 eligible inmates pay for their meals would save $90,000 over the course of a year. But it might not be worth it because those same inmates work at the jail for free. They serve food, clean the jail, and do all the laundry. The jail has no need for maintenance employees.

Charging those hardworking inmates might mean they stop working...and that could force the jail to spend even more money hiring private companies to fill the void.

The Sheriff also says the only way he would really consider charging all inmates for meals is if Illinois changes the law. As it stands right now, he's not allowed to charge people who are waiting for trial.

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