'Pay-to-stay' fees can haunt inmates after release

A study released today by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio showed that 40 of Ohio’s 75 local and regional full-service jails charge so-called “pay-to-stay” fees that, it said, can haunt inmates long after releases


By Jim Provance
The Blade

COLUMBUS — A study released today by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio showed that 40 of Ohio’s 75 local and regional full-service jails charge so-called “pay-to-stay” fees that, it said, can haunt inmates long after releases.

David Mahoney, of Marion, doesn’t directly blame the $21,000 in debt on his back for his return stays at the Marion County Correctional Center, but he said the pressure didn’t help.

“Usually, addicts tend not to deal with stress properly, and that’s why a lot of us return to using…,” he said today. “That extra stress and worry of $21,000, phone calls, (and) the family getting upset with you — it definitely plays a huge part.”

Mr. Mahoney, now a resident and staff member at Marion’s first sober living house, built up his debt with multiple stays at the Marion County Correctional Center. The center charges a one-time booking fee of $100 and then a daily fee of $50.

But the 638-bed Correctional Center of Northwest Ohio in Stryker, Williams County — which handles inmates from Lucas, Henry, Fulton, Williams, and Defiance counties and the city of Toledo — has the highest so-called “pay-to-stay” fees in the state. It has a booking fee of $100 and then per diem fees of $66, according to the study.

The report states that the regional jail does not take into consideration the inmate’s ability to pay a tab that could amount to just under $12,000 for a stay of six months.

The ACLU argues that the practice sets inmates up for failure as uncollected debts are often reported to credit agencies, affecting the ability of former inmates to find work, get housing, and get student loans.

Sixteen of the 40 jails that charge fees charge both a one-time booking fee upon the inmate’s arrival and then daily fees after that. Among them in northwest Ohio are the Williams County regional facility and the Wood County Jail. Wood charges a $40 booking fee and then a daily fee of $23.50.

The jails are allowed under state law to implement such fees, although state-run prisons do not and many local jails chose not to. At one time, the Lucas County Corrections Center charged $100 a day but stopped the practice.

The Ottawa County Detention Facility and the Van Wert County Jail are among those that charge just a daily fee, averaging $48 and $32 respectively. Seneca County Jail is among those charging just booking and release fees, totaling $10.

Jim Dennis, CCNO’s executive director, said the jail’s board decided to start collecting per diem fees six or seven years ago, along with implementing spending cuts, when member local governments were experiencing financial problems.

He estimated that the jail collects less than 1 percent of the fees imposed. It took in just $91,000 in 2013. Mr. Dennis said he has seen no evidence that the fees contribute to a higher recidivism rate, and the ACLU can point just to just anecdotal evidence that it can play a role.

“We believe (collection agency) Intellitech will work with them and be reasonable with them in collection of that debt,” Mr. Dennis said. “That clearly is their role.”

He said there’s been no discussion by the board, which is made of representatives of the member governments, about either continuing or discontinuing the fees.

“I would be the one to bring it to the table to discuss,” Mr. Dennis said. “Do we want to continue it? Is it reasonable with what we’re bringing in? Some might say a little is better than nothing.”

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