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Pay To Stay" Prison Program A Miserable Failure

Pay To Stay

In the counties of Butler and Hamilton, Ohio, the sheriff's departments attempted

to collect money from inmates to pay for the cost of their stay at jail. An all around failure, the program stopped a few weeks ago after it cost taxpayers $69,000 to settle a federal lawsuit. The state auditor halted the program because it wasn't generating any income.

Despite this fact, these counties are considering renewing the program through collecting booking fees. Financial experts in the area remain dubious. Even in the best case scenarios, the policy may not generate cash at all; most prisoners that end up in jail have no money.

Lawsuits were the issue that originally put an end to the program. An Ohio jail that was in the vicinity began charging booking fees at a hundred dollars and an additional $67.77 daily charge for every day held. But federal lawsuits against Hamilton and Butler counties began the end to "pay to stay" programs. The main issue at hand was figuring out who had to pay the fee.

Ohio law permits a county to charge prisoners for room and board, medical and dental treatment, property damage and a onetime booking fee. Inmates should be billed at the end of their stay, but the key provision of the law is that only convicted inmates could be charged. The District Judge stated that it was unconstitutional to take these fines from inmates who weren't convicted yet.

Hamilton County was sued in 2000 and was ordered to refund around one million dollars in prison fees and to pay $150,000 for an educational program for inmates. In 2001, Butler County was sued as well. By 2003, the grand total of money that was returned to settle litigation was $63,846 to 2,431 prisoners. Additionally, the county was ordered to pay a $5,000 donation to the Legal aid Society after officials did not add the agreed upon ten percent interest on refund checks.

Even though the plan to charge pay to stay fees to prisoners has failed, and has cost taxpayers more money than the program is worth, the Sheriff's department still is considering measures to make more money from the jail. Charging booking fees, and taking in out of state prisoners are ideas that they are currently thinking about.

by: Mallory Megan
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