OGDEN — Weber County Jail inmates are billed $10 per day to help defray the costs of their incarceration, but the Sheriff’s Office has decided to end the practice effective Aug. 1.
“It wasn’t as successful as it was intended to be,” said Lt. Joshua Marigoni, corrections division spokesman.
There are two main reasons for the decision.
One, another debt to be paid is the last thing an offender needs when he or she gets out of jail.
Secondly, the accounting work of billing and (usually unsuccessfully) collecting the “pay for stay” charges has become about as much trouble as it’s worth.
The Sheriff’s Office’s new bridging-the-gap program aims to reduce repeat crimes by helping inmates succeed as soon as they are released.
“They have fines, fees, restitution, court costs,” Marigoni said. “They’ve got a lot of things that they owe and they probably don’t have a job anymore.”
The pay-for-stay charges are separate from inmate commissary accounts, which contain money deposited by the inmates or family members. Inmates can spend that money on snacks, phone calls and other extras.
But the 2007 state law that authorized jails to charge pay for stay also allowed them to tap commissary accounts to recoup some of the pay for stay funds owed when inmates are released, Marigoni said.
“We took their last couple of dollars,” Marigoni said. “We send them out with nothing.”
So, for instance, an inmate doesn’t even have bus fare to get home or go to a job interview, he said.
Pay for stay also hurt the Sheriff’s Office when it tried to get federal grants for programs to rehabilitate inmates and help them reenter the community. Charging inmates runs counter to the philosophy of the grant programs.
The bureaucratic load of pay for stay also featured diminishing returns.
Each year, 13,000 to 16,000 accounts are created, one for each inmate booked. And accounts remain open until they are paid off.
Marigoni said the Sheriff’s Office billed $1.6 million in pay for stay in 2018 and collected only $55,000.
“And there’s over $10 million outstanding in current accounts and collections,” Marigoni said.
“On a success level, that’s under 4%, and it’s quite labor intensive,” he said. “I would say the manhours spent collecting it just aren’t worth it.”
Marigoni predicted the effect on the sheriff’s budget will be “a wash, if we’re not ahead of the game,” because accounting work will dwindle and the agency now will be able to win federal inmate assistance grants.
The Sheriff’s Office will continue to operate pay for stay until the end of July. All new charges between now and then will stand, and none of the old debts will be forgiven.
“They are valid debts, legal debts, the money is owed, but we will stop charging on Aug. 1,” he said.
It costs the county $73-$76 per day to house an inmate, according to Marigoni. The 2007 law was aimed at helping counties with the cost burden. But many counties have quit using pay for stay, he said.
Susan Poulsen, Davis County Sheriff’s Office chief deputy sheriff, said Thursday her agency dropped pay for stay about five years ago.
According to past Standard-Examiner coverage, the Davis Sheriff’s Office at the time got into trouble in court because it was tapping inmates’ commissary accounts to collect the pay-for-stay fees.
A district judge ordered then-Sheriff Todd Richardson and sheriff’s business office manager Keith Major to “immediately cease the taking of funds from the inmate accounts.” Afterward, the County Commission voted to reimburse inmates whose commissary funds were tapped.
Richardson left office at the beginning of 2019, and in 2018, Major was put on paid administrative leave and later retired after authorities began investigating financial improprieties.
In a report submitted to the Davis County Commission, county Clerk-Auditor Curtis Koch’s office said auditors seized almost $35,000 in bills, coins and checks in various drawers of the sheriff’s business office. The audit determined that all together, $126,000 was found to be at risk for theft, loss or improper accounting.
The county attorney referred the case to Farmington police. No charges have yet been filed.