ail captain explains "cost of care’ program
BRECKENRIDGE – It’s not a hotel, but it’s starting to charge like one.
The Summit County Jail, which has been at work on a program to charge inmates for the cost of their stay, collected its first check on Tuesday for $630, the cost of a 14-day reduced-rate stay.
“I wouldn’t say people are excited about it,” said Capt. Mike Phibbs, the sheriff’s officer in charge of the jail, said of the detainees. “I also wouldn’t say there’s a huge outcry from the inmates.”
Despite recent concerns raised by County Commissioner Bill Wallace that the program would not be conducive to rehabilitation, Phibbs said the program was only fair.
At a Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting last Monday, Wallace expressed reservations that newly freed inmates leaving the jail with a bill in hand would not be able to readjust to society in a productive way.
However, Phibbs said that the typical bill for a stay in the county detention facilities would hardly end in crushing debt and is only just for taxpayers.
“This is a situation where we’re trying to recover citizens’, taxpayers’ dollars so the community doesn’t have to continue to be victimized by the crime by having to pay the cost (of housing the criminal),” Phibbs said. “We’ve had overwhelming support for this from the community.”
The jail operates on a $1.48 million annual budget. Adding in the expense of other county departments necessary to keep the jail running – from building and grounds maintenance workers to the county attorney – the cost of incarceration totals about $2 million. Jail officer payroll accounts for the largest portion of the budget. The jail must care for inmates 24 hours a day – from the $93,000 a year for meals to more than $33,000 for doctors, dentists and other professional services.
The program charging inmates arose from budget constraints facing the county and a law passed last October that clarified the collection procedures for jails. Up to that point, Phibbs said, there were a number of similar programs already in effect.
“There’s always been an affinity to try to recoup cost from inmates, but people hadn’t been applying it universally to all inmates and that kind of made it discriminatory,” he said. “We’d been receiving a clear message from the county commissioners, and the citizens that we really needed to look at ways … for maybe recouping costs.”
The program took effect in Summit County on July 1 and given the first group of inmates it applies to, the length of stay suggests that the program will hardly drive people to the poorhouse, Phibbs said.
Monday, the BOCC will hold a public hearing on how money will be collected.
Of the 47 people with cost of care penalties tagged onto their sentences, all but five are serving or have served sentences of 30 days or less. The remaining five inmates have been granted work release, which allows them to pay off the costs while still serving their time.
Only one person is in for more than a year, something that is a “very unusual case,” Phibbs said.
“The people who might have what people are (suggesting are) these very large bills are really a small percentage and most of them in that very small percentage are given an opportunity to go to work five days a week,” Phibbs said. “For people to be in jail for a long, solid period of time without work release is unlikely.”
Phibbs also said the jail would be aggressive in pursuing debtors, but flexible with those who demonstrated an honest attempt to pay.
The current cost to the county for each day an inmate stays is $81.10. For those inmates who arrange a payment schedule or who cover their bill within 60 days, the discounted rate is $45.
“We really want to be fair about collecting from people and giving people chances to pay,” Phibbs said. “We’ll be very flexible.”
Overall, Phibbs said that despite the concerns that have recently arisen, community support the sheriff’s office has received has been high, with no phone calls of complaint.
“This is the community’s program,” Phibbs said. “We just want people to have a fair understanding of how it is. If people don’t want to do it, then I guess that’s an issue for the community to decide.”
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