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MERCER Payments by inmates slated to get started



Published: Tue, August 27, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Inmates will have to set up a payment plan when they're released.

MERCER, Pa. -- A $10-per-day incarceration fee for inmates at the Mercer County Jail will go into effect Oct. 1.

James Epstein, Mercer County district attorney and chairman of the Mercer County Prison Board, said the board decided Monday it is ready to begin implementing its prisoner financial responsibility program.

The board had originally approved the plan months ago, and it was to begin in April, but implementation was delayed while a board subcommittee worked out details of how the accounting will be handled.

Epstein said those issues have been resolved.

Mercer County has a daily inmate population of about 170 and an annual budget of $3.5 million. County officials have never given an estimate of how much the fee would bring in.

Responsibility

Imposing an incarceration fee can help cover some jail costs, but it can also be used to instill financial responsibility in inmates, said Mercer County Commissioner Olivia Lazor, chairwoman of the prison board's cost containment committee and an advocate of the fee system.

Part of life is paying for what you do, and the program addresses that issue, she said.

The fee will be charged from the first day of incarceration, but any inmate acquitted of charges or against whom charges are dropped won't have to pay.

Inmates will be expected to arrange a payment plan to cover their jail debt when they are released. Those who fail to pay will be turned over to a collection agency, including the indigent represented by court-appointed lawyers.

Other county jails in the state have charged fees for years.

Somerset County, for example, has had a $10-per-day fee for six years and brought in $40,000 in revenue last year.

That jail has a daily population of about 100 and an annual budget of $1.4 million.`




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