And finally… skimming the cream

And finally... skimming the cream

A police department is being sued for charging inmates for ice cream, cotton candy and laser tag for staff and their families.

The Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Department in Waterloo, Iowa, is among several U.S. police departments that controversially bill arrestees for the cost of their jail stays.

Before their release, inmates must sign a “notice of judgment” in which they agree to pay room and board at the rate of $70 per day plus other “administrative fees.”

A lawsuit filed by two NGOs – Public Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa – alleges that these fees were used, among other things, to fund a shooting range for the enjoyment of department employees and families, including ice cream rentals – and cotton candy machines and laser tag.

Charles Moore, staff attorney for the District Attorney’s Debtors’ Jail Project, said, “In Black Hawk County, the sheriff decides who owes money and how much they owe, without a court ever reviewing those decisions. He acts as judge, jury and debt collector. It is a classic conflict of interest.”

The lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, Eastern Division, to declare the cash collection practice unconstitutional as a violation of due process.

She argues that this is because a person is wrongfully deprived of their property and because it is a conflict of interest for the sheriff’s office to collect fees that it can then spend as it sees fit.