Such fees have escalated in recent decades. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in a 9-0 decision that financial penalties levied by states may be so high as to violate the federal Eighth Amendment constitutional protection against excessive fines. Noting that excessive fines for “vagrancy” were used after the Civil War to re-enslave freed men, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his concurrence:
The right against excessive fines traces its lineage back in English law nearly a millennium, and … has been consistently recognized as a core right worthy of constitutional protection.
In Wisconsin, each county decides whether or not to charge non-working jail inmates a daily room and board fee. Many Wisconsin counties charge inmates with Huber privileges, which allow the inmate to leave jail for work, school or other reasons.
Inmates on work release in Wisconsin state prisons are also charged room and board. The heaviest burden of jail fees is often borne by low-income individuals.
The average income for someone arrested is a little more than $19,000, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, a think tank that works against what it describes as over-criminalization.