Jay Leno joked about it on national television, questioning the wisdom of putting large boxes of cash in places frequented by criminals.
But a few jails and courthouses around the country have installed automated teller machines, trying to make it easier for people to post bail or pay parking fees and the like.
"We don't take checks, and we don't take credit cards," said Doug Naughton, court administrator in Kane County, Ill., where machines will soon be placed in a criminal courthouse annex and a jailhouse booking room.
Mr. Naughton said convicted criminals will not have access to the machines: "They're for use by people who would bond out once their money was accessible."
The suburban Chicago county sought an ATM vendor after learning that courts and jails in California, Arizona, and other Chicago-area jurisdictions had installed them. Kane County's machines will surcharge $1.50; the county will reap 13 cents per transaction.
"It saves us from keeping people overnight in jail at $50 a head," Mr. Naughton said.
For instance, he said, the police recently arrested 10 minors on a Friday night for underage drinking. "We've got a choice," Mr. Naughton said. "We can lock up kids in an overcrowded jail for the weekend until the banks are open on Monday, or we can give the parents access to a cash machine."
Kane County's machines will be supplied by Xtracash, a unit of National Bankcard Inc. of San Diego. Noah C. Wieder, vice president of marketing at Xtracash, said courthouses are seeking ATMs but banks often do not see the business case for them there.
"Banks will do it in some very high-traffic places, but a bank typically wants 2,000 or more transactions a month," Mr. Wieder said. "Our niche is in the under-2,000 transaction market."
If a trend toward ATMs is taking place in the criminal justice community, it has not been noted by national trade groups. The American Correctional Association of Lanham, Md., and the American Jail Association of Hagerstown, Md., said they knew of jails and courthouses with video arraignment and visitation systems but none with ATMs.
"The problem is that 86% of the people incarcerated are below the poverty level," said Ken Kerle, managing editor of American Jail magazine. "You can't get blood out of a turnip."