The cost of keeping prisoners locked up

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - Feeding and housing prisoners costs American taxpayers billions of dollars each year and today's economy is adding to the bottom line. Many who are in custody waiting for their day in court can't afford to bail themselves out.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, each prisoner is costing tax payers on average, between $22,000 and $25,000 a year. That's about how much it costs to send a kid to college. But Mesa County is trying to do its part to relieve us of this financial burden.

In the past, bail bonding was big business. "Million dollars of business a year and my agents could write the same amount as well," says Nancee White.

White has been a bail bondsman for 11 years and she has always kept busy. "Over 100 calls a day, the phone never stopped ringing," says White.

That is until last summer. When our local economy took a hit, so did she and the calls stopped coming. "Maybe one a day, a solicitor," says White.

This decrease is not because people stopped committing crimes. The jail is at it's fullest in decades, and most inmates just sitting and waiting instead of trying to get out. "Sixty percent of our total population is pre–trial, not convicted of a crime," says Heather Benjamin, spokeswoman for the Mesa County Sheriff's Office.

Many officials believe that this number is so high because people simply can't afford the cost of bail. "Our inmate's average length of stay is 16 to 17 days," says Benjamin.

This recent trend is adding to the overpopulation problem all across the country. But Mesa County is facing the problem head on. "People who are typically charged with a misdemeanor crime are issued a summons to appear in court and do not go to jail," says Benjamin.

Alternative sentencing is reducing the inmate daily cost which is typically a little more than $50 a day. "Alternative sentencing costs $16 a day to feed and house them," says Benjamin. The option allows those who qualify to keep their jobs and pay their own way. " We're actually charging them the $16 back and recouping it," says Benjamin. Taking the burden off the taxpayer.

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