MERCER COUNTY Officials hit snag on jail fee

The county prison board will have to meet to find a new way to collect a fee from inmates.
MERCER, Pa. -- An attempt to make Mercer County prisoners pay a portion of the cost of jailing them has hit a snag.
Mercer County Commissioner Olivia Lazor told the other two commissioners at their meeting Thursday that the county's planned method of collecting a fee from prisoners isn't legal.
Commissioner Olivia Lazor said the prison board had hoped the judges would issue a court order requiring each jail inmate to pay the lodging fee. But legal research has revealed that judges cannot issue court orders to collect what is considered an administrative fee.
Starting Oct. 1, the county is planning to assess each prisoner $10 per day toward food and lodging. Commissioner Gene Brenneman said after the meeting that the actual cost to the county is $55 daily.
Collection agency
A method of enforcing the collection is important, Lazor said, adding that she does not want Mercer to follow counties that implemented the charge but failed to devise a way to enforce it. Lazor said she would like to use a collection agency to ensure that the jail fees are paid. In this way, she said, no additional county personnel need to be hired.
A meeting of a Mercer County Prison Board committee was set for Friday to figure out a new collection plan.
Some convicts are already paying a fee in Mercer County. The Intermediate Punishment Program already collects $20 per day from those on house arrest for the cost of the ankle bracelet monitoring, but they have their own mechanism in place for collecting the fees.
In addition, Lazor said, prisoners on work release pay $10 per day toward lodging. But she said work release is a privilege and prisoners who take part must first agree to have the fee taken out of their pay. But for the majority of the prisoners, lack of a court order would mean the county would have to set up a collection and enforcement process independent of the courts.
Equipment for sheriff
Also Thursday, commissioners agreed to buy printers, computers and a copier for the sheriff's office for $16,328 and also to spend up to $5,000 for software and a laptop computer for the veterans' affairs office.
Commissioners also agreed to hire Robert Lanshack, of Grove City, in a new part-time deputy sheriff position effective Oct. 1. He will be paid $11.57 hourly. Lanshack will join five other part-time deputies.
In other business, Beverlee Proper was hired as a part-time victim-witness coordinator at $18,019 annually, and James Erb was hired as a paralegal/sentence advocate at $28,063.

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