Inmates’ jail time might have price

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 8, 2000

Future inmates of the Lawrence County Jail might have to pay for more than just their crime.

Tuesday, February 08, 2000

Future inmates of the Lawrence County Jail might have to pay for more than just their crime.

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County commissioners are considering a plan that would bill inmates for all or part of their incarceration costs, including fees for housing, food, health care and other expenses.

A private company that deals with such so-called "pay-as-you-stay" plans will present information about its program at Thursday’s 2 p.m. meeting, commission president Bruce Trent said.

"With the increased costs of housing of prisoners today, it would be beneficial to, in certain cases, be able to require restitution to the county, if we can come up with a method appropriate by law where we’re able to assess certain charges to inmates," Trent said.

No decisions have been made about the pay-as-you-stay plan, but the idea is feasible, he said.

"We actually had talked about the possibility and advantage of this in relation to the fact that there’s a law permitting it," Trent said.

The Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department, which is in charge of jail administration, would benefit through budget savings if commissioners approve the plan, Chief Deputy Jim Cochran said.

"We don’t know a lot about it yet, but the jail administrator has checked into it and is working with commissioners," Cochran said. "It would relieve some of the burden we pay."

The jail’s budget – including all expenses for utilities, meals, staff, security, inmate medication and healthcare – comes from the county budget, he said.

"One of our biggest problems is we’re housing prisoners here basically for nothing in return, and with no way of recovering our costs," Cochran said, adding that fine money does not pay for an inmate’s incarceration.

By recovering some costs from inmates, the county can whittle down the jail budget, leaving more general fund revenues for other necessary services, commissioner Paul Herrell said.

"The taxpayers deserve a break," Herrell said. "And the people who are in jail should be paying for their crimes."

Cochran agreed, and added a new jail to the county’s necessary services list.

"This would give us more (funding) to operate on and probably would leave a little bit at the end of the year in the general fund that we could put toward building a new jail," he said.

Trent said there are no estimates on what the county could save on its jail budget, but did agree that some of the savings could benefit a new jail project.

Thursday, commissioners expect their guests to explain in detail how the pay-as-you-stay plan works, Trent said.

The company has already explained that several jails in northern Ohio charge inmates then contract with companies to collect, he said.

"For what they’re able to collect, they get a percentage, or at least that’s our understanding right now," Trent said.

And if the idea works elsewhere, maybe Lawrence County should try it, he said.

"It would certainly allow the citizens of this county to know we’re trying everything we can to be as frugal about expenses as we can be."