ACLU calls on state to end inmate fees

‘Pay-to-stay’ fees saddle inmates with increased debt, group says.

“These fees are insidious: loading formerly incarcerated people with increasing amounts of debt that make it nearly impossible for even the most well-meaning person to become a productive member of society,” the report says.

Fees are deducted from inmate accounts while the inmates are behind bars and turned over to collections agencies after they’re out, which often dings their credit report and hurts their ability to get jobs, housing and transportation.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio surveyed the 75 full-service jails in 74 of Ohio’s 88 counties and found:

  • 40 charge a pay-to-stay fee, either through a booking fee, daily fee or both;
  • 16 county jails charge both a booking fee and a daily fee, with an average daily cost of $73.91;
  • The Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio in Williams County charges a $100 booking fee and $66.09 per day — the highest in the state;
  • Seneca and Wayne counties charge only a $5 booking fee, $5 release fee and make no mention of collections; and
  • When assessing a fee, 20 county jails take indigence into account.

David Mahoney, a community activist and recovering addict in Marion, said he owes $21,000 in pay-to-stay fees that he racked up in Marion County. “No way I can pay that,” Mahoney said.

ACLU of Ohio is calling on counties to end the fees charged to indigent individuals, give credit for completing programming or community service in lieu of paying fees, and opt for ticketing and probation over jailing inmates. Mahoney said he was never given an option to do community service instead of paying fees.

But Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer said he believes those who cause problems and commit crimes should be responsible for covering at least some of the cost of housing them.

Montgomery County, though, charges inmates relatively little and collects even less. Plummer said inmates are charged $10 when they enter and leave but are not assessed daily pay-to-stay fees.

“Most of our people are indigent, plus it would be a collections nightmare,” he said. The booking fees are added to court costs, fines and other fees that are collected by the clerk of courts, Plummer said. Last year, the booking fees brought in $25,300 — so only a fraction of inmates are paying them, he added.

The ACLU of Ohio has previously challenged the way some jails are run.

In 2013, the group issued a report that found courts in at least seven counties routinely jail Ohioans for owing court fines and fees, in violation of the state constitution and laws and against a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

After Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor reviewed the report, the high court issued “bench cards” to all judges statewide that lists legal alternatives to jail and outlines the procedure for determining someone’s ability to pay fines.

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