By Charles David Henry
Journalism Guild Writer
Criminalization and poverty are intertwined within the nation’s incarceration system, a report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
“It is almost always the poorest among us who fall prey to the two-tiered system of justice that separates the haves and the have-nots,” the ACLU stated.
“Pay-to-stay jail fees are the next generation of unending debts that seek to tether low-income people to the criminal justice system,” the ACLU reported in 2015, pointing to booking fees and daily fees. An inmate may be assessed a booking fee upon arrival, referred to as a processing fee, a reception fee, or administrative fee.
Some people are charged a daily fee. This should not exceed the cost of housing and feeding the person for each day of incarceration, the report maintains.
Additionally, a few counties charge release fees, covering the cost of processing a person out of jail, the report added.
The report revealed that courts in Ferguson, Mo. and Concord, N.H. are illegally incarcerating people who cannot pay their court fines and costs. In fact, the ACLU of Ohio led ground-breaking reform to combat debtors’ prison with its 2013 report, The Outskirts of Hope.
Ohio has 88 counties with over 100 jails throughout the state. This report shows that 75 facilities are full-service jails. “Out of the 75 county facilities, 40 charge a pay-to-stay fee for incarceration, either through a booking fee, a daily fee or both.”
“In Jail & In Debt: Ohio’s Pay-to-Stay fees” reported that Williams County, home to the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio (CCNO), charges the highest pay-to-stay fees. This 638-bed multi-county correctional facility houses inmates from five counties. It has one of the highest booking fees at $100. The jail then charges $66.09 per day.
“Williams County does not consider whether a person is indigent when they assess the fees, so all people regardless of income must pay the same daily fee. When a person is released, money may be taken from their commissary account to pay their pay-to-stay balance if the amount is above $25,” the report noted.
These charges are imposed against a person simply because they are in jail, the report said. The courts have identified these as a “non-criminal fee,” meaning that a person cannot be incarcerated for failure to pay them, but in practice, they operate with little difference from a modern-day debtors’ prison, The Outskirts of Hope reported.
“Any amount unpaid will remain on the person’s account and will be counted against them if they are incarcerated in the jail again,” the report added.
“Collections are processed through Intellitech Corporation. If someone were jailed in the CCNO for 180 days, they would owe about $11,996.20.”
According to the ACLU, individuals are typically expected to pay their debts while incarcerated, either directly or through commissary funds. If the jail is unable to collect all of the fees before the prisoner is released, the debt is turned over to Intellitech within 180 days. If not, it will be reported on the person’s credit history.
In materials provided to the ACLU, Intellitech claimed it does not pursue collections against people who are indigent, yet this does not appear to be the practice. In interviews with people who were clearly indigent and had been declared so by the court, they reported receiving many calls and letters and the debts were reported on their credit history.
By Charles David Henry