The Washtenaw County
Sheriff belives one way to
is through reducing the
debt incurred by detainees
A sheriff in Illinois is working to reduce the fines and fees that prisoners are charged in an effort to prevent recidivism and reduce the cost of incarceration, a radio report says.
“As we think about how do we break this cycle of recidivism and the lack of strong community, you know, one of the ways for us to help break the cycle is to not contribute to the financial debt of folks by adding on fees associated with their incarceration,” said Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton.
Writer Anna Spidel of Stateside Michigan Radio noted that the goal of incarceration is to prevent recidivism while rehabilitating individuals.
The debt carried over by someone reentering jail or prison creates a financially stressful situation for family members who might become reluctant to place money on the incarcerated person’s account, which prevents the incarcerated person from accessing goods and services.
In 2019, Washtenaw County created the debt relief fund in an effort to fight ongoing financial burdens placed on families of people who become re-incarcerated. For example, the $4.20 it costs for a 15-minute phone call earns the county $1.75 million dollars a year. Attacking this fee will help ease the financial burdens by allowing incarcerated people to maintain contact with their family. This contact can easily be reduced by expensive phone calls. Some states are eliminating phone fees.
A significant percentage of individuals end up in jails or prison because of financially related occurrences, which is why reducing the financial burden of incarceration is important, according to the Aug. 15 article.
Incarcerated individuals have access to goods and services, but may become discouraged because of a previous debt carried over from a prior incarceration, the article says.
The model in which governments directly profit from the financial hardships of prisoners and their families harms incarcerated people and the government agencies, according to Sheriff Clayton.
“There is a cycle here that I think we have to find a way to break. And I think we break it as governmental entities,” said Sheriff Clayton. “We should not try to balance our budget on the backs of people that are incarcerated. That is really important to us.”