In these difficult economic times, many New Jersey residents are voicing concern about the cost of incarcerating inmates and for good reason.

Jail Cell
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"The cost to house an inmate for one year is $53,000," says New Jersey Department of Corrections Spokesman Matt Schuman.

He points out there are 13 state prisons, with approximately 20,000 inmates, and if you include the folks in halfway houses and state sentenced county lock-ups, the number goes up to 23,000.

As far as the idea of the state trying to force inmates to cover some of the cost of their own incarceration, he says it's been looked into before.

"That has been something that has been explored in the past, and it has never really gotten that much traction - from time to time that is something that comes up - if the Legislature enacts laws that would require inmates to have to pay their incarceration then we certainly would enforce them."

Schuman says, in most cases, inmates are required to work, even if it's just cleaning their own cells. But the amount of money they earn is well under $10 a day, and the state has no way to try to collect that money. The idea of work behind bars is to acquire both skills and a work ethic that will hopefully help them once their incarceration ends.

"The Legislature passes the laws and the judge hands down the sentences, and we do what the Legislature and the Judiciary determine," says Schuman.