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Pay-to-stay may soon go away

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The American Civil Liberties Union investigated jails and their policies and is now trying to improve former inmates’ lives by ending and finding alternatives for pay-to-stay jail fees.

According to a report that details the ACLU’s findings in 75 Ohio facilities, pay-to-stay fees, or the costs that inmates pay while in jail, are creating debt that offenders cannot afford. The study found that more than half of Ohio’s jails have pay-to-stay policies in place.

According to the ACLU report, a former inmate, Mark P., experienced a pay-to-stay policy and disagreed with it.

Mark spent two weeks in the Correction Center of Northwest Ohio and left with a total bill of $651.71: $66.06 per day, a $100 booking fee and $6 per pill for medical purposes. After Mark was convicted, he returned to CCNO for a 30-day sentence, which left him with another bill for $2,157.80.

The Correction Center of Northwest Ohio has collected over half a million dollars under the pay-to-stay program in the past five years. If a former inmate fails to pay, there is no consequential additional jail time or legal action.

“If I don’t pay them, then it goes to a collection agency and screws my credit,” Mark said.

Jim Dennis, CCNO Executive Director, claims that credit ratings are not influenced by pay-to-stay fees.

“Judges can and do declare offenders indigent. When that occurs, the bill is uncollectible. Nothing is sent to credit agencies to adversely impact one’s credit rating,” Dennis said in a press release. “No one is threatened and no one is returned to jail for not paying their bill.”

According to Ohio law, jails are allowed to collect certain costs from inmates.

Inmates sign a consent form that says they have the option to pay the booking fee, which is not obligatory. When the inmate pays this fee, the money goes to a trust fund; if the inmate is not convicted within 180 days of booking, then the booking fee will be repaid.

The ACLU has recommended eliminating pay-to-stay policies, reducing fees, allowing inmates to complete programs and community service instead of paying fees and decreasing costs by cutting jail populations. It has also said jails that do not have pay-to-stay should protect inmates who relocate to those that do.

“Before I was barely making it, but now I definitely am having a hard time,” Mark said.

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