Inmate cost-of-care fees difficult to collect, some say
SUMMIT COUNTY – Collecting rent from convicted inmates isn’t as lucrative as it may sound, say officials at the Alamosa County Jail. Nevertheless, they have no intentions of dropping the program they initiated two years ago.
Summit County Jail officers presented the idea of charging inmates for their stay to the Summit County Commissioners Monday. A recent change in state legislation makes it easier to collect those fees, but it’s old hat to some jails – among them the Alamosa County Jail. There, the county has been collecting what it calls cost-of-care fees from convicted inmates for two years.
That collection rate is nothing to brag about, however. To date, only about 20 percent of those who are billed have paid, said Alamosa County Jail administrative assistant Carol Orton.
“About 80 percent are just trying to slide,” she said. “That’s who we’re turning over to collections.”
Inmates in the southwestern Colorado jail are charged $63.50 a day. The charge applies to work-release inmates, who leave the jail for their daily jobs, and those who do time only on weekends. It’s easy to get the money from weekenders, Orton said, because they must pay their fees before they’re released on Sundays.
Getting money from inmates is almost impossible while they’re in the jail, though, Orton said, because most of them are not working. But jail officials work with people once they leave the facility to make the payments as painless as possible.
“We have guys making payments of as little as $5 a month and others paying $500 a month,” Orton said. “As long as they’re working toward paying it, they won’t get turned over to collections.”
Ideally, convicted inmates who are released return to the world of the employed. If not, Orton said inmates can often work off as much as half their fees by doing community service for the Alamosa County Sheriff’s Office.
Despite the collection headaches, Alamosa County has no intention of doing away with its program.
“Some people say we’re harsh,” Orton said. “And the majority (of inmates) have court costs and restitution. But we think we should let them pay their dues. They shouldn’t feel coming to jail is a free ride.”
Local defense attorney Tim Meinert is among those who think the program is not necessarily fair. For instance, the charges would apply to those convicted of driving under the influence or domestic violence.
“Sometimes now there is mandatory jail time on first-offense DUIs,” Meinert said. “I think it’s kind of questionable whether some of these people even belong in jail. Then to force them to pay for it on top of having to stay is adding insult to injury.
“My opinion is it just adds another cost to the defendant who already has the burdensome costs involved in any case – court costs, substance abuse class, domestic violence classes, fines. I think it’s just another way to get more money out of my clients.”
The money recovered from Alamosa County’s inmates goes into the county’s general fund. Local jail officials propose to do the same with any funds they collect.
Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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