Michigan County Requires Inmates to Defray Cost of Incarceration
Amboyer, Donald J., Corrections Today
The cost of incarcerating inmates typically represents a major portion of a county budget. According to the 1991 edition of Corrections Yearbook, the average budget from a sample of 76 jails across the United States was $24.5 million; the average daily cost per inmate was $45.64.
To many taxpayers, it seems unfair to have to pay for food, clothing, shelter, medical and dental treatment, and other expenses for individuals convicted of crimes. Taxpayers also must bear costs for offender apprehension and prosecution as well as, in many cases, high insurance premiums for the county.
In Macomb County, (population 717,400), the cost of operating the county jail in 1992 was about $18.3 million, nearly 11 percent of the county's total operating budget. Recent studies by the county showed that it costs about $56 a day to house each inmate. The jail's average daily population is 960.
Responding to the continuing upward spiral of the jail's operating costs, Sheriff William H. Hackel and the Macomb County Board of Commissioners in 1985 initiated the Jail Reimbursement Program under provisions of the 1984 Inmate Reimbursement to the County Act. The law allows counties to collect fees of up to $30 a day from inmates for their incarceration. Payment may be collected for time spent in detention following conviction from inmates who can afford to bear the cost of their incarceration.
From its implementation in 1985 through the end of June, Macomb County's program collected about $2.7 million for placement in the county general fund as partial reimbursement to taxpayers.
How the Program Works
Jail reimbursement staff evaluate each inmate's financial status upon arrival. The evaluation is based on an interview with the inmate and information he or she discloses in forms. Staff also may contact employers and review the offender's income tax records.
Inmates are not billed until after release from jail. The county sends invoices at 30, 60 and 90 days after release. The extent to which the county follows up on those who do not respond depends on the ability of the former inmate to pay. For example, there is no extended follow-up on an indigent person, but a relatively wealthy person would continue to be pursued for payment indefinitely.
Inmates are billed for room and board, work release, physician and dental visits, medication and hospital medical treatment. An average of 700 accounts are billed monthly; more than 15 percent result in payment.
All charges incurred by inmates are billed on a sliding scale--offenders with substantial assets or high paying jobs are assessed a higher daily fee than those with limited savings or minimum wage jobs.
Under the statute, the county can file a civil action suit up to six months following release from jail against inmates who do not pay fees owed to the county. The county also can seek a restraining order preventing inmates, pending a hearing, from disposing of property. …