In the distressed economic status of our state, some local governments are trying desperately to increase revenue. Local governments such as Wayne, Oakland, and St. Clair counties charge inmates $60 per day while they serve time in county jails. Yes, that's $60.00 per day to stay in an overcrowded jail!
Michigan state law allows counties to seek reimbursement for up to $60 per day for the time people spend in jail. State law also permits additional fees, such as a $12 booking fee, assessed by the sheriff's department.
However, the state rarely sees the revenue from the daily fees. The Oakland County Sheriff's Office bills nearly $15 million a year and collects "maybe $450,000". In the past Oakland county has collected about 6% of the owed fees, but in recent years, that number has dropped to about 3%.
Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union have taken the position that charging inmates to stay in jail-costing up to $21,900 per year-is unfairly burdensome. Critics say that many of those in jail are indigent or jobless, and the fees unfairly target those who cannot pay.
For those who cannot pay, it can become a slippery slope. After being in jail for years, trying to find a job and start a new life is difficult enough-not to mention a potential debt amounting to tens-of-thousands of dollars hanging over your head. What happens to the individuals who can't pay the court ordered amount?
Remember debtor's prison? You may not, it was outlawed in the United States in 1833. Debtor's prison was a prison for those who could not pay a debt. Doesn't make sense does it? If you can't pay the debt while out of prison, clearly it is going to be more difficult to pay the debt while you're locked up.
Well critics of the daily fees charged to inmates can relate. Not only do the fees unfairly target those who cannot pay, or will have a difficult time paying, the system is disabling former inmates from getting a fresh start and living a jail-free future.
Yet, proponents of the fees claim that the fees imposed still do not cover the increasing costs of inmate facilities, especially medical and mental health services. Genesee County currently does not charge a daily fee, however the county commissioners will revisit the plan this year.
Even those who charge daily fess less than the maximum allowed such as Macomb, Washtenaw, and Livingston counties consider the fee a way to lessen the financial burden on the taxpayers.
Although the majority of Michigan's county jails collect only 10% of the fees, it's still more than nothing at all. Further, proponents of the fees argue that the fees may be a disincentive for some people to break the law.
Whether you favor or oppose having to pay to stay in jail, one thing is certain - in difficult economic times, everyone, including county governments, is looking for new ways to make a buck.