Convicts could pay to stay in jail
BRECKENRIDGE – Summit County inmates could soon be paying for their time in jail.
Under state legislation passed last fall, law enforcement agencies can charge convicted inmates for their time in jail, and Summit County Sheriff Joe Morales thinks that’s a fine idea.
“It’s jail,” he said. “If you’re going to perpetuate crimes and victimize people, this is what you can expect. You’re going to pay your way.”
Morales and Summit County Sheriff’s Capt. Mike Phibbs, who oversees jail operations, talked about the idea with the Summit County commissioners Monday.
They want to get a legal opinion on the proposal. If it passes that inspection, Morales wants the inmates to start paying rent – ideally about $45 a day.
Phibbs estimates it costs more like $175 a day to house an inmate, but the $45 a day is the amount the federal government pays jails to house inmates.
It costs about $1.6 million a year to operate and maintain the jail. Under the best-case scenario, Morales believes the jail could collect about $1 million from inmates.
But because it’s likely some inmates won’t be able to pay, Morales expects to collect about $500,000 a year or less, in addition to medical costs and extraditions.
Phibbs thinks it could put a stop to problems like that of a female inmate who recently claimed she was having a heart attack.
She was taken to a Denver hospital and kept overnight for observation. That trip cost the county $40,000, Phibbs said.
“I just know she was faking it,” he told the commissioners.
Under the new legislation, she could be charged for that medical emergency.
“This system isn’t to be abused,” Morales said. “I also see it as another deterrent to jail. This is not a freebie or a place you can go and spend the winter. We have some people who get convicted of petty crimes so they can stay in jail. Essentially, these people are now going to be paying rent while they’re here.”
Chuck Garrison is already feeling the heat from the new legislation. The former
Breckenridge-area man, convicted last spring of second-degree murder in his wife’s death, is getting a bill for $26,000 from the Summit County Sheriff’s Office. That’s the tab for the investigation into Sharon Garrison’s death.
Money to operate the jail comes from the Summit County general fund, financed mostly by sales and property taxes. It has been stretched thin during the past year by falling sales tax collections, federal and state budget cuts, and increasing health insurance costs. Any savings realized by billing inmates would be returned.
“Depending on how the county commissioners would set the budget the following year, that money could be used for other services or, conceivably, to lower the mill levy,” said County Manager Ron Holliday. “It’s a wonderful idea, I think. It’s reasonable these folks that are in jail pay for those services they’re using.”
The fees would only apply to convicted inmates. They would, however, be retroactive, which means an inmate would be billed for pre-
conviction days in the facility.
Summit County would join a handful of Colorado jails that now bill inmates. The concept falls in line with Morales’ theories on jail. While inmates are treated well, he believes they should have no doubt they are in jail. In 1996, Morales was the first sheriff in the state to bring back black-and-white stripe-jail uniforms. Until then, the county’s inmates wore orange togs.
Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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