Sunday, July 23, 2000

Paying their way

N.Ky. inmates charged fees

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In a practice reminiscent of medieval England, Northern Kentucky prisoners are joining inmates throughout the Commonwealth who now must pay much of their own way.

        Under a law that took effect July 15, Kentucky's 85 county jails can charge up to $50 a day for a prisoner's room and board, and levy a booking fee of up to $20.

        Many jails — including those in Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties — also recently have increased inmates' medical fees for everything from prescriptions to visits to the doctor or dentist.

        In lobbying for the law, the Kentucky Jailers Association said that prisoners have to help foot the bill for their ever-increasing housing, food and medical costs.

        Although the new fees are not expected to make much of a dent in most jails' multimillion-dollar budgets, jailers see them as a way to start reining in escalating costs.

        “We wanted to send a message,” Campbell County Jailer Greg Buckler said. “Let's put the burden back on the people who are in jail, not the taxpayers.”

        While costs vary, depending on the size of the facility and the programs that it's required to offer, the average cost of housing a prisoner is about $34 to $35 a day, Deborah Taylor said.

        As president of the Kentucky Jailers Association, her father, Daviess County Jailer Harold Taylor, lobbied for the new law. That was after learning at a national jailers convention how the fees improved jail budgets in states from Florida to Michigan.

        “There never was a law that prohibited counties from charging the fees, but fiscal courts were uneasy on exactly what they could charge for,” said Ms. Taylor, who works as an administrative assistant to her father. “The new law gives some guidance on what kind of fees can be charged, and it offers a range.”

        In Campbell County, the fiscal court is expected to start charging a $20 booking fee for prisoners coming into the jail next month. County officials are expected to give final approval to the fee on Aug. 16.

        Since late December, Campbell County's jailer also has collected about $10,000 through a $40 daily fee that Campbell District Judge Greg Popovich has been charging those who commit misdemeanor offenses. Campbell County prisoners also have the option of paying 25 percent of their daily gross wages, whichever is less.

        Mr. Buckler said he eventually hopes to extend the pilot program to the other Campbell district judges' courtrooms.

        The Kenton County Jail started collecting a $15 booking fee and a $5 daily fee last Monday, while prisoners in the Boone County Jail started paying a $20 booking fee on Wednesday.

        Boone County is not yet collecting a daily fee, but county officials have authorized the jailer to collect up to $20 per prisoner per day.

        In Ohio, jails may legally charge both booking and daily fees, but Hamilton County charges only a $30 booking fee, jail officials said.

        In Indiana, no fees are collected for booking or daily upkeep.

        Mr. Schickel expects the new fees will generate about $100,000 a year toward his jail's annual $2 million budget.

        Although Kenton County corrections officials did not offer revenue projections for the new fees, Chief Deputy Rodney Ballard not ed: “Every dollar the county collects from a prisoner is one dollar less that taxpayers have to pay.”

        Mr. Buckler said, “I know we won't get 100 percent participation, but even if we get 50 percent participation, that'll generate another $60,000 a year for the jail fund.” He added the Campbell County Jail has a $2.2 million annual budget.

        The new law applies to county inmates typically sentenced to a year or less in jail, not state or federal prisoners serving longer terms.

        The fees don't apply to prisoners deemed indigent by the courts, and jailers have up to a year to collect the money, after inmates leave the jail and become productive citizens. After a year, jailers also have the option of turning the debts over to a collection agency or going to court to collect the debt.

        Because more than half of those incarcerated typically are repeat offenders, jailers also have the option of collecting any debt owed if a prisoner has money when he is rearrested.

        Most prisoners have the ability to pay though, Kentucky's corrections officials say.

        For example, during the month of May, Kenton County inmates spent $8,100 on commissary items, such as soft drinks, candy bars, and coffee, Col. Ballard said.

        And Ms. Taylor said it's not uncommon for jailers to book drug dealers with pocketfuls of money.

        “We're not trying to take advantage of someone who is truly indigent and has children to support, but we want to hold people who break the law accountable for their actions,” Ms. Taylor said.


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