MERCER COUNTY Prison board approves plan to establish incarceration fee

MERCER, Pa. -- Mercer County Jail inmates now have to pay a $10-per-day incarceration fee.
The Mercer County Prison Board approved the plan Monday as a way of reducing escalating jail costs and instilling some financial responsibility in inmates.
Mercer isn't the first Pennsylvania county to try this cost-recovery method.
County Commissioner Olivia Lazor, chairwoman of the prison board's cost containment committee, said Westmoreland and Berks counties already charge an incarceration fee.
James Epstein, Mercer County district attorney and prison board chairman, said the issue has undergone a constitutionality challenge elsewhere in the state and has been upheld at the Commonwealth Court appeal level.
The jail averages about 170 inmates daily, but about 80 percent of them haven't been convicted of any crime and are awaiting a court date.
Everyone will be charged the fee, but if charges are dropped or an inmate is acquitted in court, that person's fee will be eliminated, Epstein said.
Inmates can begin paying their bill while still in jail or can be billed when they leave. Failure to pay will result in the debt being turned over to a collection agency.
Inmates are already required to pay a $5 fee for seeking a physician or nurse outside the regular medical visits in the jail. That charge is now part of the new fee policy.

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