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ACLU Criticizes Ohio Jails for Charging Fees to Inmates

November 11, 2015 | Written by Dan Margolis

We say that someone who completes a criminal sentence behind bars has paid his or her debt to society. But in many parts of Ohio, once a prisoner is released, he or she is expected to begin paying a literal debt, one that can stretch into the thousands, as WCPO-TV reports.

This is not related to any fines or other financial penalties imposed by the court. In many cases, people sent to jail are being charged for their time there, as if they are going to a hotel. Rates can range from $10 to $66 per day of incarceration, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. Tack on other fees like “family fees,” which 16 Ohio jails charge, and there is an average of $73.91 in fees per day.

The ACLU opposes this practice. The group’s report notes that collecting fees from prisoners makes little difference in jails’ budget. For instance, Hamilton County’s budget for its jail system is about $35 million per year; the county collects between $140,000 and $160,000 in prisoner fees annually.

The report urges changes in the law to eliminate or at least restrict the ability of jails to charge their inmates things like “booking fees.” One of their proposals is to put caps on how much jails can charge. Another is to give people the option to work off their debt with community service.

A few Ohio counties have voluntarily stopped collecting jail fees. Perhaps the legislature will take action to control this practice statewide. Remember that being arrested and jailed pending trial is not the same thing as being convicted of a crime.

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