Adding It Up

Local governments are looking to jail inmates for revenue; but pay-to-stay fees create more problems than they solve.

Counties can charge booking fees, daily housing fees, costs for clothing, or even medical fees to people housed in jails – but are these programs successful? The ACLU of Ohio’s newest report, Adding It Up: The Financial Realities of Ohio’s Pay-To-Stay Policies, shows aggressive pay-to-stay fee programs simply do not work.

Click here to read the report.

Criminal justice experts estimate that nearly 80% of people in jail are low-income. Many more leave jail unemployed, and are driven further into debt by steep legal fines and costs they cannot hope to pay, since their families have likely spent any savings they had on bills while they were incarcerated.

Families are destroyed by a criminal justice system that metes out jail time for minor infractions and then loads on fees for the prison stay. Pay-to-stay fees are often the burden of families because jails collect the fees through commissaries, where families deposit money to pay for phone calls, stamps, pencils, paper, and other items.

Jails already gauge families on the cost of these items, and pay-to-stay fees place another hurdle to families keeping in contact with their loved one by phone or letter. Studies show contact with family members is one of the strongest influences in keeping people out of jail in the future.

Counties are charging these fees because of state funding cuts and growing jail populations, but balancing our budget woes on the backs of low-income people is not only bad policy, it just does not work. The only way to help our jails is to send fewer people there and invest in programs that keep people out of jail.

The ACLU of Ohio is sending a letter and copy of our report to every sheriff and county commissioner in the state urging them to abandon pay-to-stay programs.