Here’s a twist on the cost savings angle that left me stunned and speechless this morning: The Arizona Department of Corrections plans on charging $25 for visiting inmates in its correctional institutions.

Yes, I know. I had to do a double-take as well. But here it is, large as life, in the New York Times:

New legislation allows the department to impose a $25 fee on adults who wish to visit inmates at any of the 15 prison complexes that house state prisoners. The one-time “background check fee” for visitors, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, has angered prisoner advocacy groups and family members of inmates, who in many cases already shoulder the expense of traveling long distances to the remote areas where many prisons are located.

Beyond the obvious commentary – what a mind-boggling limitation on the budget of already impoverished families and friends of inmates, what an imposition on top of travel to distant locations, what a hindrance to rehabilitation and reentry by way of alienating inmates from their support system – this makes one think of Mona Lynch’s excellent Sunbelt Justice, which we reviewed here a while ago. Arizona has always been big on doing things on the tough-and-cheap. Like Texas, and unlike California, Arizona prisons were originally fashioned like farms and produced revenue based on inmate labor; both Texas and Arizona correctional officials used to mock the cumbersome, expensive rehabilitative apparatus ran in California.

Of course, since those days, the Arizona apparatus has grown large and cumbersome, and as opposed to California, very much enmeshed with Correctional Corporation of America. But the heritage is still there, which explains how the legislature can even come up with such ideas. As disturbing as the state of incarceration is in California, I doubt our legislators would initiate this idea. Mass hysteria, unmitigated punitivism, case-specific sentencing laws following redball crimes, yes. Cynical savings of this ilk, no.  

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