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Charging for jail stays harms inmates, doesn’t help county

Published: Mon, January 13, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

Charging for jail stays harms inmates, doesn’t help county

Regarding your Jan. 5 story, “Mahoning sheriff, engineer make big changes,” pay-to-stay jail fees are going to create more long-term problems than they solve for Mahoning County.

First, these fees will do very little to offset massive jail costs. Consider that in one year the Hamilton County jail spent nearly three times more on food alone than it brought in from three years of jail fees.

Second, jail inmates will never be a reliable source of revenue because nearly 80 percent of people in jail are financially distressed. Counties that experiment with pay-to-stay eventually find that most inmates simply do not have the money to pay the fees, no matter how high they are or how aggressively they are solicited.

Now consider the negative side effects. Whatever funds local governments are actually able to collect from inmates will likely be lost two-fold when crippling poverty funnels them right back into a cycle of crime and incarceration. Meanwhile, the fees also target their families, who have done nothing wrong and are usually the ones depositing money into jail commissary accounts to help their loved one pay for phone calls, stamps, pencils, paper, and other basic items.

Incidentally, these items usually cost more in jail than they would at any retail outlet.

Seizing money from these commissary accounts to satisfy jail fees generates very little actual revenue, but succeeds in making it much more difficult for inmates to maintain contact with their loved ones. This is a poor trade-off, since regular contact with loved ones is one of the strongest influences in keeping people out of jail in the future.

And the only long-term solution to this problem is to keep people out of jail in the future. State-funding cuts and growing jail populations have put county officials in a tough spot, but balancing their budgets on the backs of low-income people is not only bad policy, it just won’t work.

Mike Brickner, Columbus

The writer is director of communications and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.


1tnmartin(426 comments)posted 1 year, 6 months ago

It's called "jail" for a reason. People are behind bars due to their own bad behavior, behavior that in previous times would have resulted in execution or various sorts of physical punishment, publicly administered. All common at the time of the establishment of our Constitution and accepted within that framework. If they were Constitutional then, they remain so: the document has not changed. Perhaps we abandoned that approach too soon.
I agree that we have far too many persons in jail. Perhaps, just perhaps, if some of our repeat offenders (and their various offspring) might consider changing their ways, this might not be so much of a problem. Surely even the doofi at the ACLU would not object to that, surely?
In my business travels around the country, I've seen several jurisdictions that charge room&board to inmates. Why should the citizens provide "3 hots and a cot" to criminals? One county that I encountered also had a very active work-release program, such that a jail van would transport inmates to, say, a restaurant. Inmates would wash dishes, etc. until the van returned for pickup. Money earned - and they were paid - went to pay the room and board, pay restitution if that was part of the judge's findings, and provide a nest egg for prisoner upon release. Many of them had a turnaround in life as a result - they had NEVER before had a real job, nor had they grown up in a stable home where people worked regularly and were expected to do so.
All because, for the first time in their lives, they had to be responsible. Perhaps ACLU finds that to be a offensive term and concept, but most of us live by it. Try it some time.

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2dontbeafool(1392 comments)posted 1 year, 6 months ago

You can't lock someone up and then charge them rent. Basic neccessities have to be given. If an inmate has no money, you can't let them starve. Common sense. Now other than the basics, it is absolutely okay for inmates to be required to pay for extras. Commissary, phone calls, etc... I don't know about county regs, but state/fed level, they also have to make payments towards court costs, fines, and sometimes to the victims if it was a monetary theft.

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3tnmartin(426 comments)posted 1 year, 6 months ago

one might legitimately say that this is supposed to be punishment, not warehousing. Jail, incarceration, was intended to be a more "humane" punishment than, say, public floggings. Given that any town the size of Youngstown has a fair number of "regulars" who are in and out on a pretty regular basis, one might conclude that the approach has not been completely successful. And that's not including the other communities in the area,
And, yes, there are a lot more behaviors defined as felonies than were once the case. Didn't used to have cars, so multiple drunk driving convictions or aggravated vehicular homicide were not yet considered. A reading of just the Ohio Revised Code would reveal a lot of things that were not even possible in 1789. And that does not include the Federal codes. An income tax did not exist then (they were wiser than we in that), so income tax evasion was not defined, Nor was such a thing as wire fraud even possible. And crack cocaine did not exist in 1789. Ain't "progress" wonderful?
But in general I agree, we do have some matters that have been inflated in severity. Call Dennis the Menace and have it addressed at the fed level.
With respect to charging rent, why not? Neither you nor I told that fool to get drunked up and punch out a neighbor or a wife yet again, or for Suzie to go out on a shoplifting run. Why should we the citizens be expected to support the fools with 3 hots and a cot as they sober up again, or plan their next shopping spree? I remind you that such things are being done elsewhere and have been for 20 years that I know of in at least one jurisdiction. Perhaps a certain amount of public shame -- and I am open to public floggings as an alternative to a 15 day stretch in the County - just might be a wakeup call to habitual offenders and their enablers and might be a useful way to get their attention. You know the old story about how you train a mule, perhaps this might get their attention. Certainly the current approach is open to a continuous improvement effort.

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4mouse(109 comments)posted 1 year, 6 months ago

i would pick them up at 6 am every morning. give them 2 meals a day,& they would have to do work around town & at the end of the day 9:00 pm return them to their homes..
if they are not ready in the am when the bus stops to pick them up, i would put them in stocks on the public square until they learn to be on time for the bus pickup.
they would be in stocks 2 hours at a time & get 15 mins. breaks for the rest room & water. food would be out of a can. there would not be any fancy meals.
our military probably wish they could have it so good.. instead,hey come home with arms & legs missing & ptsd. .

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5dontbeafool(1392 comments)posted 1 year, 6 months ago

And if an inmate has no money for rent? Are you going to keep him incarcerated forever, or evict him?

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6tnmartin(426 comments)posted 1 year, 6 months ago

I suspect it might be found that these people might be found to have some assets. Go after them. Set bill collectors after them after release. Take a deduction out of their welfare checks. Be creative.
Oh, and while we're at it, why not adopt the diet and uniform of inmates at Joe Arpaio's jail in Arizona? Green bologna sandwiches, and make them wear pink underwear (for males, at least).
People, this is JAIL. Supposed to be punishment for bad behavior and a deterrent against future offenses. It is not supposed to be a taxpayer-funded vacation. Just about any jailer can tell stories of people who really don't mind being there: the "three hots and a cot" paid for by YOU. It should be uncomfortable. Drafty and lumpy mattresses, laughed at by passers-by. cold showers, bad food. Encouragement, in other words, to change your ways and not come back.
Talk to some of the Criminal Justice folks up at YSU, get some figures about the rate of repeat offenders, a.k.a. "career criminals". Lots of it. Perhaps the practice in past cultures of execution of those whose behavior had demonstrated determination to horrid behavior, were not so terrible as we once thought. Cuts the recidivism rate a whole lot.

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7billdog1(3254 comments)posted 1 year, 6 months ago

These county jail inmates for the most part are not felons. The only people that ever get forced to pay these pay to stay fees are the person that has a job, usually is only there for the weekend and does work everyday. The people going for 30, 60, 90 days or more never pay these pay to stay fees because like the article stated, they are drudges of society. They have no job, they have no assets and even the sheriff can't get blood from a stone. I remember not so long ago that Trumbull and Mahoning County got in trouble for taking people's money when them came in for booking. Somebody took them to court and it was found unconstitutional. I'm not for a freeloader of any kind but this type of thinking never punishes those that it is intended to punish. The sheriff's know this going in. It's a fruitless attempt at making a show for those to simple to understand that the idea won't work. There is nothing creative about this financing, it has been tried and already failed. So how about looking for a way to let inmates that think the jail is a hotel and their extended stays their are not vacations, but punishment. Make their stay as miserable as possible. Then just maybe they won't be returning as often.

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