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'Pay to stay' at the Purgatory Jail

Published: Saturday, June 28 2008 12:03 a.m. MDT

It's definitely not a resort, but $45 will soon get you an all-inclusive stay in Purgatory.

The Washington County Sheriff's Office is implementing a "pay to stay" program at the Purgatory Jail effective July 15. The jail's new chief said it is designed to offset increasing inmate housing costs, as well as an experiment in reducing recidivism among criminals.

"The more expensive it gets to run the jail, the more likely we are to have tax increases," Washington County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Jake Schultz said Friday.

The $45 flat rate will cover all housing costs. Inmates will start being charged from the moment they're moved from booking to housing and end when they're released. Schultz said discounts will be offered at the Purgatory Jail for inmates who are discipline free (10 percent off), go through education programs (another 10 percent discount), and pay it in full when they're released (up to 50 percent off).

"If they got released and they want to pay in full, they took self-help and had been discipline free, they could potentially have a 70 percent cut," he said. "We're really hoping to promote the rehabilitation process."

While it doesn't take effect until next month, Schultz posted the notice in the cellblocks earlier this week. Inmates, he said, have been quiet about it.

"It's not something they have a lot of control over," he said.

The fee does not apply to state inmates, because the Utah Department of Corrections already reimburses counties for the costs of housing its prisoners. However, some counties have complained that the state money isn't enough. To help, the Utah Legislature passed a law allowing jails to charge inmates in custody.

"The Legislature passed this as a signal, as an indication of where they want us to go," said Box Elder County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Kevin Potter.

The Box Elder County Jail is expected to start charging its inmates as soon as they can settle on a price.

"That's probably our biggest debate right now," said Potter.

Cache County charges $43. Utah County charges $10 for misdemeanor offenders booked into its jail. The Davis County Jail charges for its work release inmates who spend their nights in jail while going out and working during the day. Purgatory has set up its own fee schedule for work release and job release inmates.

One problem that jails worry about is actually collecting the money. Often, inmates are too poor to make bail and paying a hefty fine after being in jail from arrest to court and through sentencing could be outrageous.

"We want to try to be fair when we're setting this price so it's something that can actually get paid," said Potter. "How long can we hold an account before it goes to collections? We've had numerous discussions about that topic. Our options are pretty limited. We either work out some kind of agreement or take less money, have a full balance or consider it settled."


E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com

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