Inmates might foot charges for jail stay

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 23, 2000

Inmate fees can be assessed and used positively by counties that face tight jail budgets, a jail administration company said.

Wednesday, February 23, 2000

Inmate fees can be assessed and used positively by counties that face tight jail budgets, a jail administration company said.

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Jeff Sweeney, representing Intellitech of Youngstown, detailed methods of collecting "pay-for-stay" fees to county commissioners last week, who invited him to their regular meeting.

State law now allows counties to charge a fee of up to $60 or cost, whichever is less, for processing inmates, Sweeney said.

Counties also can charge a similar amount per day for an inmate’s stay.

"It moves it from a criminal fine to a civil fee for costs," he said. "The whole process has been reviewed by the state attorney general and it has his blessing, but there are forms that have to be signed and a way it must be done."

The company provides consulting and computer software to handle the fee processing.

Commissioners and jail officials favor the idea, saying that operating costs are already too high at the county lockup.

Having inmates foot part of the bill can only improve operations, they said.

But there are concerns about how the fees will be collected. Commissioners want Intellitech to provide success rates, collection percentage proposals and answers about what happens to inmates who have no money to pay the fee.

The county expects to have a proposal from Intellitech within a month.

"I believe what we’re looking toward here is helping the prisoner be accountable for his or her expenses and reduce the burden on the taxpayers," commission president Bruce Trent said.

In addition, a successful fee system would provide more funding for the jail or sheriff’s department, Trent said.

"If we could recover costs of $150,000 to $200,000 (per year), we’re looking at a significant amount of revenue to ease the burden on the budget," he said.

Sweeney promoted Intellitech’s process, calling the company’s approach better because it handles a high volume of fee processing for about 20 counties.

Trying to do it locally costs the local county more, he said.

"Most of our counties charge about $30 to $35 for processing and about $10 per day," Sweeney said.

Costs for medication, for which Lawrence County spent $26,000 last year, and other health care are usually recovered at the local level, he added. But Intellitech has a software solution for that type of billing, too.

"We have counties collecting from $50,000 to $500,000 per year on this program," Sweeney said. "No county is not making money."

Typically, the percentage the company takes is about 30 percent, but it depends on the amount of work in collecting, he said. The more work the company does, such as chasing a delinquent bill through small claims court, the less the county will receive.

"And I know a few jails that do it on their own that are losing money."

To collect the fees, the jail must have people who are arrested sign a form stating they will pay the fee, Sweeney said.

"We develop a product that allows us to administer pay-for-stay and integrate it into the jail program," he said.

Intellitech can set up software at the jail or the company’s office – from paperless to an all paperwork system.

The company pursues collections by invoice and seeks judgments in court if necessary, Sweeney said, adding that the process is a civil court process.

"We haven’t seen a problem with inmates refusing to sign the forms, he said.

There are no annual contract fees so the only way to lose money is if the county brings in zero dollars, then it is out the setup and forms costs, he said.

Although commissioners favored the pay-for-stay idea, they took no official action on a contract with Intellitech.

Meanwhile, the company that owns the jail’s current processing software also has a pay-for-stay billing component it’s willing to sell the county, jail administrator Brian Deer said.

Although the county would have to collect the fees locally, the company will charge a lesser percentage than Intellitech, Deer said.