Sheriff Joe Arpaio says rising food costs, budget concerns will result in inmates paying for meals

PHOENIX - The Maricopa County jail system is believed to be the third largest in the nation, and soon it may be the first to begin charging inmates for their meals.

"Everybody else has to pay for food, why should they [inmates] get freebies," said Arpaio.

Arpaio confirmed to ABC15 that beginning in March, he is planning to charge each inmate $1 per day for the cost of their meals.

Currently, there are roughly 8,300 inmates in the county jails and tents who receive two meals a day.

"You have to be a little innovative these days with budget problems and rising costs," Arpaio told ABC15.

The Sheriff said meals used to cost $.60 a day per inmate, but the cost of food has risen since the jail is now purchasing more food with donations down.

"The food banks are hurting, they're not getting donations and we are not getting the donations we used to," said Arpaio. "A dollar a day isn't that much, I mean that's what it costs to feed the inmates now."

Arpaio explained there are a couple different ways to collect the money, starting with the moment someone is booked into the facility.

"They're coming to jail and they have money in their pocket, that's going to be the first priority," said Arpaio.

According to Arpaio, the other way to collect will be from jail accounts. As money is placed in an inmate's account by family and friends that money would be subjected to the $1 a day fee.

"We're going to make sure we use that money before they [inmates] go to the canteen to buy some chocolate bars," Arpaio explained.

But what about inmates without money? 

"Those who don't have the money, come on, of course we're still going to feed them," said Arpaio.

It's unclear at this point how much money the $1 fee will generate because Arpaio says it depends how many can pay the fee and how many inmates are housed on a daily basis in the jails.

"This is something we have to do, we all have budgets and costs to deal with, so it only makes sense that they can pitch in," said Arpaio.

He expects to put the new plan in place in early March.

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