Cherokee hopes to make inmates pay their own way

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians could make the inmates housed in its future jail pay — literally.

19 June 2013

Written by  Caitlin Bowling


The tribe is considering a plan to garnish casino dividends of tribal members who find themselves spending quality time in Cherokee’s clink to help cover their room and board. Tribal Council members passed a resolution earlier this month giving the tribe’s attorney general the OK to draft sample legislation along those lines. Once written, it will need to pass Tribal Council and be signed by the chief.

Tribal Council Representatives Perry Shell and Tunney Crowe introduced the idea the council’s monthly meeting.

“It was something we had talked about the past,” Shell said. “I think it’s a good idea.”

However, exactly how much each inmate would have to pay up per day in the slammer is still up for debate. It could be a set amount or a percentage.

All tribal members get a cut of casino profits. The annual payments currently amount to about $8,000 a year each before taxes. The tribe already garnishes money from the casino dividend checks for child support, and as a result, Cherokee has the highest child support collection rate in the state.

If an inmate owed child support, Shell said, that would likely come out of the check first before anything else.

There are a number of steps left before the idea would become law. Tribal Council plans to hold work sessions to hammer out all the details as well as give their constituents a chance to weigh in. Shell said people have already contacted him to proffer their opinions.

“The reception I am getting so far is positive,” Shell said.

But there will be plenty of time for the tribe to figure out all the particulars. The Eastern Band will complete construction of a 75-bed jail, which is part of a larger justice center being built by the tribe, next year. The tribe doesn’t currently have a jail of its own and pays other counties a daily fee to house tribal inmates. Most inmates from Cherokee are currently housed at the jail in Swain County. Cherokee pays $?? per inmate per day.

It is common practice for county jails to stick inmates with a bill if they are held for fewer than 30 days. If their time in jail exceeds 30 days, the county can’t bill them for it.