FARMINGTON — First you're sent to jail. And then you have to pay jail officials for housing you.
In 2007, Utah lawmakers gave local jails that authority, under certain conditions, in what's now called the Pay for Stay program. Several adult detention facilities in the state charge inmates for their time behind bars.
Until a week ago, the Davis County Jail also participated in Pay for Stay. But that changed because of a judge's ruling that sheriff's officials don't agree with, and it has them contemplating their next move.
The jail began Pay for Stay in 2007. But, due to complaints, the Davis County Jail in January stopped collecting from inmates who were convicted of their crimes but hadn't yet been sentenced. The sheriff's office met with the Davis County Attorney's Office on March 10, and the sheriff's office decided to continue the practice it had started in January.
"All parties were in agreement; Pay for Stay would be allowable post-sentencing, but not before," the sheriff's office said last week in a prepared statement. That means only inmates who were serving sentences in the jail were charged.
But last week, the jail stopped collecting any money from the inmates for lodging and medical expenses after a ruling made by 2nd District Judge Michael Allphin.
"Judge Allphin’s order has further complicated the issue," according to the sheriff's office.
Allphin ruled the money collected by the jail amounted to a form of restitution, something the jail is not authorized to collect.
The sheriff's office was collecting $10 per day from inmates after they had been sentenced for their crimes, even though the law allows jails to collect more than $46 per day from inmates. Federal inmates were not charged.
The sheriff's office also offered several programs that allowed inmates to have their Pay for Stay fees waived. In 2013, the office collected $369,000 through Pay for Stay. During that same time, approximately $857,750 worth of fees were waived through inmate worker programs, according to the sheriff's office. The money collected went into the Davis County general fund and not directly into the police budget.
In a press release issued the day after the judge's ruling, the sheriff's office noted that "the taxpayer’s burden of housing offenders was reduced dramatically" because of the money it had charged inmates.
"The Davis County Sheriff’s Office will comply with Judge Allphin’s order, but is deeply concerned with the suggestion to the public that it has violated the law. The policies in place by the Davis County Sheriff’s Office are identical to policies used by many other jails in the state of Utah," according to the statement.
At the Salt Lake County Jail, certain inmates are charged $40 per day.
"We only do it on prisoners who have commitments from a justice court," said Salt Lake County Sheriff's Sgt. Cammie Skogg.
Prisoners sent to the jail from justice court typically serve between 30 and 60 days, she said. Justice court cases are predominantly misdemeanor crimes, such as a first offense DUI.
If the inmate is sentenced to jail by a state court or is being held for U.S. marshals or immigration officials, there is no charge.
Furthermore, once an inmate is released, they are offered several ways to pay off their balance. If a former inmate can pay the entire Pay for Stay bill within the first week of release, 50 percent will be knocked off the cost, Skogg said. Payment plans are also offered.
But the Salt Lake County Jail does not have any power to go out and collect that money if someone decides not to pay.
"It isn't something we take tax refunds from, we don't put liens on people, we don't issue warrants for it," she said.
But if a person ever returns to jail without paying their earlier bill, then their inmate account balance will reflect what they owe.
"Unless they come back to jail, and we show they have that negative balance, that's the only way we are reaching out to collect," Skogg said.3 comments on this story
But even then, Skogg said, the jail will not drain an inmate's account while they are incarcerated and leave them with nothing.
The Utah County Jail also advertises on its website that it participates in the Pay for Stay program, collecting from inmates convicted on misdemeanor charges only, and sometimes those arrested on warrants. Inmates being held for the U.S. Marshals Service, Adult Probation and Parole, and immigration officials are not charged.
Prisoners are able to waive their fee or work part of it off by participating in certain programs, according to the jail website. But unlike the Salt Lake County Jail, if an inmate doesn't pay, "possible submission of account for legal action" may take place, or an account may be "subject to tax garnishment."
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