Costs of incarceration

Unfortunately, the most valuable assets convicted drug dealers have often seem to be controlled substances. Obviously, the authorities cannot auction them off to help pay the bills for incarcerating the pushers.

Those bills got out of hand years ago in Eastern Ohio. County officials reacted with new or expanded jails. But even those prove inadequate at times.

Last week, Belmont County commissioners had to go back on a past vow. After paying tens of thousands of dollars to have other counties house prisoners, commissioners at one time said they would do so in the future.

Well, the future came last week, and commissioners had no choice but to agree to another round of payments, this time to Jefferson County.

They agreed to pay that county about $150,000 to house 30 inmates from the Belmont County jail. It may be necessary to renew the deal later this year.

Commissioners had no other viable options. Overcrowding at the Belmont County corrections facility meant they had to find somewhere else to house prisoners or consider freeing some of them.

It will not escape local taxpayers’ notice that this did not seem to be a problem before the substance abuse epidemic swept into our area. Much of the overcrowding can be blamed on arrests for drug-related offenses.

Earlier this month, federal officials began taking another look at an old, sometimes abused, strategy: asset forfeiture. It allows the authorities to seize property owned by some criminals. Proceeds of sales can be used to aid law enforcement.

It may be time for Buckeye State officials to examine methods of forcing criminals to pay, too.

As is the case with the federal asset forfeiture program, there need to be safeguards to ensure that the innocent — often criminals’ family members with no knowledge of illicit activity — suffer.

But surely there is some way to force wrongdoers to help cover the cost of incarceration. Taxpayers should not be stuck with providing them three squares a day and a roof over their heads.

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