Ohio pay-to-stay prisons saddle poor inmates with debt: ACLU

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Ohio's prison system pushes low-income offenders deeper into poverty by charging fees for their jail time, saddling inmates with debts as high as $35,000, according to a report released on Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

Forty of the state's 75 county jails that house low-level nonviolent offenders charge a booking fee, daily fees of as much as $50 to $60 a day, or both and of those just half take the offender's income into account when deciding how much of a fee to impose, the report found.

It charges that the fees bury people in debt and likely contribute to higher rates of recidivism. The Ohio ACLU called for the state to eliminate the policies or access for indigence and/or allow programs for inmates to work off the debt.

"Pay-to-stay jail fees are the next generation of unending debts that seek to tether low-income people to the criminal justice system," the report states.
"These fees are insidious: loading formerly incarcerated people with increasing amounts of debt make it nearly impossible for even the most well-meaning person to become a productive member of society."
Some Ohio prisons charge as little as $10 for booking and $1 or $10 a day depending on ability to pay. But with some Ohio county poverty rates as high as 32 percent and a minimum wage of less than $8, Mike Brickner, Ohio ACLU senior policy director said, even fees on a sliding scale can be "insurmountable" Brickner added that with no means to pay the pay-to-stay fees that debt often goes into collections making it more difficult if not impossible for people then get a car loan a job or a place to live because now their credit is compromised.
Pay-to-stay policies proliferated 20 years ago after a state law allowed facilities to charge prisoners fees and the law also allows each facility set its own policy however about half of the state’s county facility have abandoned them all together.
State officials did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.

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