Tuesday, 13 March 2012 18:32

Ohio inmates pay for their prison stay

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County has collected nearly $30,000 in two months.  The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A southeastern Ohio prosecutor is trying to help the county's budget by pursuing financial restitution from jail inmates who've been convicted of crimes.

Athens County Prosecutor Keller J. Blackburn collected $28,178 in January and February for the county's $12 million general-fund budget. The two-month total exceeded the $20,739 the prosecutor's office collected for all of last year, he said.

Plea agreements with some felons included financial sanctions that became part of their sentences. Those sanctions required the felons to reimburse the county for their time in the Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail, the multicounty jail in Nelsonville.

Blackburn said he expects to collect about $52,000 in jail restitution this year.

Inmate-reception fees and other pay-to-stay programs are fairly standard around the state as a way to help local governments cope with jail expenses.

On Jan. 1, Franklin County began imposing a one-time, $40 jail-reception fee on convicted inmates to help defray jail expenses. Hamilton County also imposes a $40 fee on convicted inmates. The regional jail in Nelsonville charges a $15 booking fee, and a $1-a-day pay-to-stay fee.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio opposes the fees, maintaining that they unfairly burden the incarcerated and their families, many of whom are poor.

Besides one-time reception fees, state law allows local governments to establish pay-to-stay programs to collect ongoing jail reimbursement from convicted inmates.

Some county prosecutors say it's not worth the bother.

"The general difficulty is most people who commit serious crimes are not wealthy and not in a position to pay for their custody," Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said.

Blackburn said his priorities are always victim restitution, court costs and fines. But if he can collect jail restitution, he will.

Some of what Blackburn collected so far this year resulted from plea agreements made by his predecessor. The money came from about two-dozen convicted felons who had the means to pay. Among them:

* Sarah G. Jeric, 27, of Athens, who was convicted of heroin trafficking and sentenced to four years in prison, paid $4,500 for her stay at the Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail and forfeited her 2009 BMW to the county sheriff. Jeric, who had a trust fund, agreed to the terms in exchange for a two-week furlough to put her affairs in order and see her family before she went to prison, Blackburn said.

* Kevin R. Giles, 25, of Columbus, arrested selling crack cocaine outside the McDonald's in Nelsonville, was convicted of cocaine trafficking and sentenced to four years in prison. He, too, was granted a furlough before he had to report. In exchange, Giles paid $10,000 to the county to pay for his jail stay and the cost of the investigation. The first-time felony offender also can apply for early prison release. The money likely came from his family, Blackburn said.

* Harold Eberts, 58, of Jackson, hit a guardrail while driving drunk on Rt. 50 and injured his passenger.
Eberts, a business owner who has terminal cancer, pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence, reduced from aggravated vehicular assault, and was sentenced to five years on probation, Blackburn said. In return, he paid $12,615 in restitution to the county. Blackburn disputes the suggestion that Eberts appeared to have bought his way out of incarceration and said he was a unique case because of his illness.

Athens County does not require its inmates to pay the $51 it costs per day to incarcerate them in the Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail.

Blackburn said he has sought jail restitution when it is appropriate, such as in drug-related felonies.

"The goal is to try to punish and rehabilitate the offender

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