Program to charge inmates at Summit County Jail hits bump
SUMMIT COUNTY – Plans to charge inmates for their stay at the Summit County Jail hit a small snag Monday at a meeting of the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). However, chances that guests of the county justice system will end up footing the bill are still pretty good.
Expressing the concerns of a citizen with whom he had discussed the issue, Commissioner Bill Wallace requested that the policy be moved from the consent agenda of the BOCC’s Aug. 25 meeting to the slot for new business.
This will allow for a public debate among the commissioners as to the merits of the measure.
“I expect to be able to have the option of either voting yes or no,” Wallace said. He declined to name the citizen.
Items placed under the consent agenda are either approved or denied as a group. Under new business, Wallace would have the option of addressing the matter individually.
“I just wanted (the commissioners) to know that this citizen talked to me and that I have a tendency to agree with him,” he said.
In citing the citizen’s concerns, Wallace pointed to those inmates who, upon leaving the jail with a substantial bill, would hardly be inclined to assimilate smoothly back into society.
“If I had just come out of the Summit County Jail after a year (and were faced with a bill), quite frankly, I wouldn’t embrace society a whole lot,” Wallace said. “I would probably be a lot more antagonistic.”
While the item was switched, support for the policy appeared to remain strong.
“I think that Bill’s concerns are valid, that it’s kind of silly to put people in jail and take away their source of income and expect them to pay for something,” Commissioner Gary Lindstrom said. “My point is that people, once they get out of jail and are back working, they ought to figure out some sort of payment plan to repay some of the costs to the jail.”
The jail charges $81.10 per day for housing the inmates.
“If you do the crime, you do the time, and this is part of the time,” Lindstrom said. “If they end up losing their house, their car, their boat, their IRAs, everything else – that’s their decision. Society didn’t decide to do this for them.”
Summit County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Mike Phibbs, who is in charge of jail operations, said the punishment was just.
“I’m not looking to bury someone for the rest of their lives so (that) they can never get beyond the mistake they made,” he said. “But to get in jail for more than five days, you have made a lot of mistakes.”
“It’s not that, “Society did this to me,'” he said. “It’s how often you’ve done this to society.”
While Wallace said he agreed with the policy in principle, he said it was important to at least ensure that inmates had options to pay off their debts, both financial and through jail time.
“If a guy has an option to work or an option to sit in the cell and watch TV or play cards, I have no problem with (charging them),” he said.
To address the matter, the commissioners discussed the possibility of creating an expanded work release or day labor program to assist those stuck with the bills in finding jobs to help pay them back.
Commissioner Tom Long warned against the possibility that payment for jail housing could supersede repayments to victims.
“My concern lies in the fact that I don’t want to be going after somebody for the cost to taxpayers before the restitution to the victim,” he said.
However, he said that he also had no qualms in pursuing housing reimbursement after that.
“It costs us, the taxpayers, a lot to keep somebody in jail and if we can recover some of that we should,” he said.
Aidan Leonard can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or
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