Can we make prisoners pay?
County Attorney Conley Chaney addressed the McCreary County Fiscal Court Thursday, presenting a proposal that might provide some relief to the County in terms of the cost of housing prisoners.
Chaney provided a letter from Commonwealth’s Attorney Allen Trimble, which stated a recent Kentucky Supreme Court ruling approved that incarceration costs can be considered as Court costs, thus allowing the County the opportunity to charge inmates fees – even if they are incarcerated at other counties’ facilities.
This would allow the Fiscal Court to implement fees on inmates, potentially easing the financial burden to the County for transport and housing.
Chaney noted any bill imposed on an inmate would be a civil debt, and thus not enforceable with the threat of arrest or additional jail time.
As such, any attempt at collecting the fees would fall to the County, probably through a debt-collection agency, similar to the one used by the McCreary County Ambulance Service.
It was noted that jails housing McCreary County prisoners are collecting fees from McCreary County prisoners, such as for commissary items, but since the County is paying for their housing, those facilities should not be imposing a housing fee.
Magistrate Roger Phillips asked if other counties are imposing booking and housing fees on their prisoners.
“I believe this is a normal practice,” Chaney said
According to the statute referenced by Chaney, prisoners can be charged fees for booking, a daily fee of up to $50 for room and board, medical costs and damages to the facility.
Deputy Judge Andrew Powell stated the Fiscal Court had previously authorized the charging of fees prior to the jail closure, but had no mechanism in place to collect that money.
“You authorized Tony (Ball) to do this, but didn’t authorize collection,” Powell said.
In 2009 the Fiscal Court voted to allow the implementation of a $10 booking fee and a $5 per-diem fee (up to 10 days) to all county prisoners.
Powell noted that when the Jail closed in 2013 there was over $200,000 owed to the Jail in the fee account through those charges.
The Magistrates asked how indigent prisoners, those who cannot afford to pay, would be handled. Additionally, they wondered if they would be correct in trying to collect from some one who was arrested, but not convicted or acquitted of the charges.
Chaney noted there are stipulations in the statute that would allow the Jailer or Court to either negotiate a smaller payment or waive fees depending on circumstances.
The Court voted to allow the exploration of possibly imposing those fees.
If passed, it could conceivably reduce the financial strain on the County for transport and housing. While 100-percent collection would most likely be impossible, even a 25 to 50 percent collection rate may cut overall costs by a third.
In other Fiscal Court actions Thursday:
The Court opened bids for goods and services, such as road oil, hot mix, road salt, home incarceration, fuel, drug testing and culverts. All packages, except for drug testing had only one bid offered, and the Court accepted those bids.
The drug testing bids will be considered at the special session, set for later this month.
The special session, set for Monday, June 27 at 3:00 p.m. will mainly be used to approve the second reading of the proposed 2016-17 budget, but additional items can be added.
The Court also opened bids for the splash pad planned to be installed at the McCreary County Park.
Two bids were received, one from splash Pads USA, totaling $65,000 and one from Bluegrass Recreation, totaling $190,000.
Due to the desire of installing the splash pad as soon as possible, the Court voted to accept the low bid once the Park Board would be able to compare the two offers to ensure the specifications were met.
The Park Board is expected to meet in special session this afternoon (Thursday) to review the bids.
In other Park-related business, Magistrate Phillips asked the Court to approve $22,000 worth of improvements to the Sandhill campgrounds.
The project, a continuation of work done a few years ago, would include upgrading 36 campsites, fixing electrical wiring, and installing doors on bathroom stalls.
The cost of the project would be about $22,000, and come out of the Park funding.
Magistrate Duston Baird also asked to consider adding basketball courts to the park, which would cost upwards of $50,000. That project has been set aside for further discussion, possibly at the next meeting.
Deputy Judge Powell asked the Magistrates to consider using some funding to purchase a permanent movie screen and sound system to be used for the Movies in the Park series of events.
Powell noted the family night movies have been successful in the past, and investing in improved equipment would enhance the experience for attendees.
McCreary County Chamber of Commerce President Diana Bybee addressed the Court regarding the Southeastern Kentucky Business Park, and the request for McCreary County to contribute $10,000 toward marketing.
Bybee said all other five counties included in the alliance have agreed to contribute that amount.
She also noted McCreary County had received over $50,000 between 2012 and 2014 as a result of occupational tax receipts from the business park.
Magistrate Phillips questioned where any money would come from, to which Judge Stephens replied that there is funding in the Economic/Tourism fund for projects that could be used.
No final decision was made on the request at the meeting.