Friday, September 16, 2011

What will Arizona think of next?

Remind me – if I ever go to prison – not to end up in the pokey in Arizona.

Not only don’t I like the heat, let alone bunking in an un-air conditioned pup-tent  - or wherever it is that the S&M sheriff of Maricopa County puts up scofflaws - but it would also cost friends, family, and readers of Pink Slip a bit of walking around money to come and visit me.

Anyway, refuting the age old notion that crime doesn’t pay – which, given Bernie Madoff’s 40 year crime cum luxury living spree, we didn’t quite believe to begin with; if nothing else, it can pay for a good long while  - the Arizona Department of Corrections is now planning to levy a one-time fee (covering a background check) on those who want to visit inmates. (Source: NY Times.)

It’s only $25. And it’s just a one-time deal. And they did strike down the background fee check for infants and children. Now only those over 18 are subject to it. (It isn’t clear whether those infants and children will still get background checked – you never know what Junior might have hidden in his diaper -  it’s just that they won’t have to pay for the privilege.

Still, there is something unsettling about charging folks for this sort of service. Kinda mean. Kinda punitive. Kinda snarky.

Despite what you might think, it’s not as if most prisoners are bespokely suited slicksters  in the country club stir for some financial finagling. In fact, I do believe that it’s more likely that the majority of prisoners are from poor enough backgrounds that a $25 charge might actually hurt a bit.

But lest you think for a New York, Rikers Island minute that this was the smugly passive-aggressive intent behind this initiative, or if you might be inclined to suspect that -  heaven forefend – it’s a tiny little class warfare skirmish, the state is doing it to keep its prisons, if not safe for democracy (heck, felons can’t vote, anyway), then safe for staff, inmates and visitors:

“Maintenance funds for our buildings are scarce in this difficult economic time,” [Corrections Department spokesman Barrett Marson] said. “A $25 visitation fee helps to ensure our prisons remain safe environments for staff, inmates and visitors.”

What will Arizona think of next?

Well, they already have thought about charging a 1% surcharge on funds deposited in a prisoner’s account. Who do they think they are, anyway, BofA? Sheeesh.

So what else could they do to try to eke out a bit more in revenues to help cover their deficit.

Sticking with prisons for a mo’, forget the prison laundries we’ve seen in movies – you know, the ones in which prisoners work for 14 cents a day, and always seem to end up using a mangle on some fellow-prisoners head – how about coin-op laundromats?

And why not automats, rather than chow lines?

Personally, I’ve always wanted to eat in an automat – put in my dime and get some piping hot chicken noodle soup, drop in a nickel for a piece of cherry pie – but it probably wouldn’t be worth it to wend my way into an Arizona prison for that particular privilege, if they do follow up on my idea. Which they should.

How about paying for cell upgrades? Cell with a view? A single? A room with bathroom en suite – just not out in the open with the toilet next to your bunk? In the outside world, people pay for upgrades all the time. Just watch a few episodes of House Hunters on HGTV, and you’ll see what I mean. Maybe some of the bunks could have Tempur-Pedic mattresses, 700 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, matching duvet covers.

They could charge for use of the prison library, fitness equipment, time in the yard: you’d have to pay extra to get your stroll in during temperate hours. Prisoners who can’t come up with the scratch have to do their aimless meandering and blunt trade, sweltering at high noon.

Back to those prison visitors, who have pockets just waiting to be picked by the state.

Why not charge for parking in the visitors’ parking lot? Offer premium visiting hours? Wanna visit sonny boy at noon on Christmas? Ka-ching! And why aren’t those phones, the ones that loved ones use to communicate through the smudged and scratched up plexiglass, coin-operated. “Your three minutes are up. Please deposit an additional 25 cents.”

The one and only time I stepped toe in a prison was when the Notre Dame Academy Glee Club presented our Christmas Chorale to the inmates of the Worcester County Jail.

Perhaps this was a formative experience which has, lo these many years later, has turned me into some kind of genius when it comes to monetizing the prison experience.

Arizona Department of Corrections: you’ll be hearing from me.

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