Short Take: Bail Out Your Dead

Bail has become a controversial subject, much like weather. Everybody talks about it but few do anything. Google has decided that the woke thing to do is ban bail bond ads from its service, as bondsmen have been vilified as profiteers in the contoversy. And former Department of Justice icons of wokeness think that’s groovy.

This is almost as rational as the “don’t make us kill the weed doggies” pitch, but…well, you know. After all, if bail gets set and someone can’t pay it, it’s better to have to suffer greedy bail bondsmen than be left in jail for the next few years. Is Vanita an idiot? Nah. She believes we are, and it’s worked for her so far, as she’s enjoyed the love of the mob.

But what if you’re dead and your family wants you back?

A western Illinois coroner is taking heat over how he handles the remains of those whose loved ones can’t afford a proper burial: after signing over their rights to the body, he cremates the deceased and keeps the ashes until the family pays him $1,000 – at which point he’ll release the death certificate. Of the $1,000, $800 goes to a funeral home and $200 to the crematory.

From the coroner’s point of view, he’s got expenses and they have to be paid. The money has to come from somewhere.

If a family can’t pay, the ashes of their loved one are mixed with others and buried in an unmarked grave. Meanwhile, if the death certificate is needed for some purpose (life insurance, settling the estate, etc.), the coroner, James Keller, will arrange for the county to recoup its costs from any proceeds.

Keller says he adopted the policy after the state announced that it was too broke to pay for indigent funerals and burials – instead shifting the cost to funeral homes and county coroners.

In the game of government finance, the shifting of costs from one budget to another is internecine warfare. It sucks the money that was budgeted for one thing, like the office Christmas party or attending coroner conventions in Hawaii, to a completely unanticipated use.

Of course, the state is never really “too broke to pay,” since it is has a never-ending source of money called taxpayers, but it prefers not to raise taxes or divert funds from another source, like tactical weaponry, to an unappreciated use like cremating poor people, despite its long-standing tradition.

But Keller isn’t budging, as he braves the slings and arrows of people too poor to buy back their loved one’s remains.

Keller says his approach protects taxpayers in the tiny county bordering the Mississippi River, while ensuring that funeral homes are paid for their services and poor families can see their loved one buried without having to pay for a full burial.

Keller has continued the policy despite the fact that Illinois has resumed paying for funerals.

“We do our very best and our due diligence to taxpayers, and we try to be supportive of families, with the hand that we’re dealt with by the state,” Keller said.

It’s not that there isn’t irony here, with some families getting life insurance and, well, willing to forgo the return of daddy’s ashes because, well, he’s dead and isn’t of much use anymore anyway. People are still people, you know.

And certainly the state’s shortfall isn’t the funeral home’s fault, and there’s no reason they should be compelled to suck up the expense for indigent burial.

Then again, if the state is willing to hold its living residents in jail for inability to make bail, at a cost that dwarfs bail by an absurd magnitude and for reasons that often defy reason, is holding the dead until families buy them back any worse?

Maybe this presents an opportunity for those bail bondsmen whose Google ads have been erased, bailing out grandma’s ashes. After all, it’s not like she’s going anywhere. Then again, neither are the vast majority of the detainees still alive.

13 comments on “Short Take: Bail Out Your Dead

  1. B. McLeod

    Blaming it on the bondsmen??? These people are fools, and this idiocy will have no impact on the actual problem.

            1. Hunting Guy

              Robert Heinlein in Time Enough For Love.

              “Being intelligent is not a felony. But most societies evaluate it as at least a misdemeanor.”

  2. MonitorsMost

    Open the estate and sue his ass for conversion and replevin. The corpse has to be considered personal property of the estate, right? How did the coroner acquire title? This isn’t a tow company, there isn’t any statutory coroner’s lien.

    Either that, or we interpret a petition for writ Habeas Corpus a little more literally…

      1. Jy

        Towing ashes is akin to training mosquitoes as comfort insects. It reasons that it could be profitable, but a soft breeze is all it takes to end your dreams.

  3. wilbur

    The article says the coroner gives the families “ample opportunity” to come up with the thousand to get Uncle Tater’s remains. I’m curious as to how long he gives them – a day, a week, a month, a year?

    These people can’t hire a lawyer: if they could, they’d just pay the man. Maybe they can talk the local Legal Aid attorney into helping them. And those similarly situated.

    But the man’s entitled to get paid, too.

    An aside: the article refers to “tiny” Adams County. It’s the 22nd most populous of Illinois’ 102 counties, with about 67,000 and change. But is Quincy is a well-known city in the state.

    1. SHG Post author

      The coroner is entitled to get paid, but one might suspect it would come from the county/state rather than the pauper. That’s the thing about being poor. You still die but you can’t afford to.

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