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Saturday, May 30, 2009


Prisoners being billed $60 for each night they stay in jail

Debt to society costs some criminals $60 a night
Tracy Loew
May 28, 2009
Get arrested in Springfield, Ore., this fall, and you might spend the night in jail — then get a bill for your stay.

The city plans to charge convicted criminals up to $60 a night, depending on their ability to pay, when a new 100-bed lockup opens in October, Springfield Police Chief Jerry Smith says. Thus, the city could recoup most of its cost of about $70 a day.

"These people are the ones who cause the cost to operate a jail, so they ought to be the ones to pay it, not private citizens," Smith says.

The economic recession is spurring several local governments to turn to pay-to-stay programs, says Sara Totonchi, public policy director for the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights, which fights legislation that imposes such fees on inmates.

"In these difficult economic times, policymakers are looking for different options to save money," Totonchi says.

Springfield is one of at least five city and county jails that this year started billing inmates for jail time if they are found guilty.

• In Utah, the Salt Lake County Metro Jail charges inmates $40 each day, Sheriff James Winder says. The Box Elder County Jail in Brigham City, costs $10 per day. Since the plan started April 1, about a third of the inmates have paid the fee, Box Elder's jail commander Sandy Huthman says.

• Missouri's Taney County, which includes Branson, charges $45 for a day at the jail in Forsyth, county prosecuting attorney Jeffrey Merrell says.

•Richmond, Va., began charging inmates $1 per day April 15. The few who can't afford that small amount can work jobs in the jail to earn the money, Sheriff C.T. Woody Jr. says. The city hopes to raise between $60,000 and $200,000 a year, he says.

Woody says Richmond started the fee because taxpayers are tired of footing the bill to house criminals while other vital services are being cut from municipal budgets.

"I'm just getting on board to relieve some of the responsibility off of taxpayers," Woody says.

Not everyone can pay. In Springfield, unpaid accounts will be turned over to a collection service, Smith says, and debtors could end up in small claims court.

The Douglas County Jail in Roseburg, Ore., also uses a collection agency, jail spokesman Dwes Hutson says. The jail has charged inmates $60 per day since 2002 but recently cut the fee to $20.

"We found that inmates got such a huge bill that it was hard for them to pay," Hutson says. "We collect more money charging a more reasonable rate."

In Salt Lake County, indigent inmates are not billed, and some who participate in improvement programs can work off their debt, Winder says.

A few jails have been collecting similar fees for years. Klamath County Jail in Oregon has charged $60 per day since 2003, District Attorney Ed Caleb says. Overland Park, Kan., bills inmates $35 for a day in the county jail, Overland Park Municipal Court Administrator Robin Barnard says. Last year, though, Overland Park collected only 39% of the user fee, Barnard says.

Totonchi says the fee can be a burden on inmates' families, who often end up footing the bill. Jailers acknowledge that the fee can be difficult to collect.

"We're not stupid. We realize we're not going to recover 60 bucks from everybody," Springfield's Smith says.

Loew reports for the Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore.

That implies that EVERYONE that is arrested was SUPPOSED to be arrested. That the cops are never wrong.

Then when it comes to going to trial, if the person is found not guilty, all monies should be automatically returned.
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