In Jail & In Debt

In Jail, In Debt: Ohio's Pay-To-Stay Fees

The ACLU of Ohio is the first to collect and analyze pay-to-stay policies statewide with the report In Jail & In Debt: Ohio’s Pay-to-Stay Fees. Pay-to-stay jail fees are the fees charged by local jails to people while they are incarcerated. This report takes a comprehensive look at jails across the state, compares policies, documents impact, and proposes new recommendations to stop locking people in cycles of incarceration and debt.

In Jail, In Debt: Ohio's Pay-To-Stay Fees

Our statewide investigation analyzes policies at 75 facilities representing 74 counties across Ohio. More than half of jails, 40 of the 75, charge people for their incarceration through a booking fee, a daily fee, or both. Ohioans are getting billed up to $66.09 a day to be in jail. It is a follow up to the 2013 report Adding It Up: The Financial Realities of Ohio’s Pay-To-Stay Policies, which explored the financial impacts of pay-to-stay policies in Ohio. This report analyzed how local governments were trying to generate revenue from people in jail, but pay-to-stay fees created more problems than they solved. We suggested counties follow the law and assess for indigence, eliminate costly collections agency contracts, and consider the impact on families.

Learn More about Pay-To-Stay fees in Ohio

Exposing the Impact of Pay-to-Stay in Ohio

By gathering personal stories, patterns began to emerge detailing the unintended and devastating impact of Ohio’s pay-to-stay fees.Counties are not assessing for indigence as stated in Ohio Revised Code. Ohio law requires “the daily cost assessed is not to exceed the total amount that the individual is able to pay.” We found that only 20 of the 40 county facilities charging in our study confirmed assessment of indigence in some way.

When I got out I had a place to stay, then I didn’t. Why would I even consider sending them a payment of the money that I might not even have next week. I might not be able to eat next week because I’m paying them. – Michael W. Geauga County

People impacted by Pay-to-Stay fees suffer financially. These fees are often reported to collections agencies, meaning they appear on credit reports. This narrows employment options and dashes opportunities for home ownership. These fees add additional financial stress as many people are still responsible for their monthly bills, rent, child support, school loans, and other financial obligations.

It is a travesty that they prey on people who are down and out or have unfortunate circumstances. – David M. Marion County

The conditions in jails also reveal further frustration with fees. The quality of food, medical services, and attitude of staff are often less than ideal. Asking formerly incarcerated people to pay for their perceived mistreatment stirs up an emotional response. Derrick C. of Lucas County says, “I’m not saying [we should get] steak and lobster, but [the food] should be edible….Treat me as a human.” During Derrick’s stint in jail, he contracted tuberculosis, was quarantined for a year and is now on disability.

Derrick left jail with a criminal conviction, tuberculosis, and thousands in pay-to-stay debt

The emotional impacts of pay-to-stay debts are equally debilitating. Calls and notices from collections feel like harassment and induce panic and worry for formerly incarcerated people and their families. A sense of hopelessness typically results as many feel the cards are stacked against them and they have no chance at paying off their debts.

It gives you a sense of hopelessness when someone’s on the phone telling you you’ll never get a house until you pay this- Made me feel like less of a man or person. I remember that call distinctly, seven years later. – Billy H. Marion County

Fixing a Broken System

Pay-to-stay policies are not the answer to swelling jail budgets due to our addiction to mass incarceration. They only make it more difficult for people to succeed in society, and increase the likelihood they may end up back in jail or prison one day. If we are too solve our mass incarceration problem, it must be through sending fewer people to jail, not balancing our budgets on the backs of low-income people. It is our hope that this report will help Ohio eliminate these practices once and for all.The ACLU of Ohio sent this report and a letter to every sheriff and county commissioner in the state urging them to abandon pay-to-stay programs once and for all.Sign up for our email alerts to be notified when it’s time for you to take action to end pay-to-stay in Ohio.

Learn More about criminal justice reform in Ohio

  • Read The Outskirts of Hope, our groundbreaking report on debtors’ prisons in Ohio.
  • Read Ohio’s Statehouse-to-Prison Pipeline, our report detailing how Ohio lawmakers are undermining efforts for criminal justice reform with continued attempts to enhance criminal penalties.

Visit our Prisoners’ Rights and Criminal Justice issue pages.