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ACLU report critical of Hamilton County jail fees

Ann Thompson

A new report from the ACLU says pay-to-stay jail fees are not the revenue generator they appear to be. The American Civil Liberties Union studied such programs at three jails, including the Hamilton County jail. During a news conference Wednesday, the ACLU said collections agencies often pose an additional financial drain on counties, with minimal results and often ruin the credit rating of people who have left jail but cannot afford to pay these fees.

In Hamilton County convicted inmates have to pay a one-time "reimbursement fee" of $40. Major Charmaine McGuffey, in charge of the jail, says if the inmates are determined to be indigent the fee is waived. She says the county generates less than $200,000 annually from this fee.

"We're working under fiscal emergencies. Almost every government agency is and the monies that get appropriated to the jail are typically used to keep good quality of life for the people that are incarcerated and by that I just mean the basics."

The ACLU says the fees lead to recidivism

“Pay-to-stay policies only make it more likely that individuals will return to jail and struggle with poverty. These policies are not the solution; they are part of the problem,” concluded Mike Brickner, director of communications for e ACLU. “The small amount of revenue generated by these programs is nothing compared to the long term side-effects. The harder we make it for the formerly incarcerated to rehabilitate their lives, the less likely we are to shed the burden of the world’s highest prison population.”

The Hamilton County Sheriff's Department says it wants to rehabilitate inmates and is on board with the ACLU to keep them out of jail. McGuffey has formed a committee to help "people manage their lives," by finding housing and employment.