SUNDAY EDITION | Kentucky prisons cannot collect fees from inmates without a judge’s order. Some still do. | In depth

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – When the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in October that state prisons can no longer accept reservation fees and daily charges from inmates without an order from the judge, the Boyd County jailer, William Hensley, said he immediately spoke to the defendants in his custody and waived their charges.

“I just got rid of all the fees for all inmates,” he said in a recent interview. “I didn’t want to be responsible for someone’s money if a judge hadn’t ordered it taken.”

Prior to the ruling, Hensley levied a $ 50 reservation fee when making the reservation and charged inmates an additional $ 50 each day – a common and lucrative practice of jailers since the passage of a law in 2000. Jailers generally kept the ‘money – or sent bills – even if someone subsequently had their charges dropped or found not guilty.

But the High Court ruled on Oct. 28 that it was unconstitutional for jailers to take money from inmates. Only a sentencing judge is “able to order reimbursement and billing of incarceration costs, not the county jail,” according to the judgment.

After notifying inmates of the decision, Hensley reached out to judges and prosecutors in his county to include wording in the sentencing documents for judges to determine if an inmate could afford to pay jail costs and , if applicable, how much.

“Other prisons do it differently, but I just tried to err on the side of caution to make sure I didn’t take money that wasn’t allowed by law,” he said. .

While some jailers have followed suit, months later others are still charging inmates a reservation fee and / or daily fee without a judge’s order, or because they haven’t heard of the decision. , or because they misinterpret it.

For now, paying for your time behind bars depends on which prison you land in.

“There is no uniformity across the state,” said Oldham County jailer Mike Simpson, former president of the Kentucky Jailers Association. “We have to update this thing, get everyone on board and consistent. There is a lot of confusion.

The law passed in 2000 is constitutional but has been used inappropriately by jailers, according to the Supreme Court ruling.

Campbell County jailer Jim Daley, president of the State Jailers Association, said he had contacted his organization’s lawyers but had not yet received a response – and many jailers are still awaiting advice.

“We haven’t discussed any conclusive decisions,” he said in an interview. “It’s up to each jailer to decide for the moment. “

Sheila Gant, deputy head of a facility that holds inmates from Bourbon, Nicholas, Harrison and Roberson counties, said officials were still taking a $ 40 reservation fee because they believe only daily charges were processed in the Supreme Court decision.

In Allen County, a jail official said they also still take reservation fees, but then referred a reporter to county prosecutor Hallye Arterburn. In an interview, Arterburn said: “I am not responsible for what the prison does, so I have no information for you.”

Louisville Metro Corrections stopped taking a $ 35 reservation fee this week. Prison spokesman Steve Durham did not respond to a question about when or if people who have been paying fees without a judge’s order since October would get their money back.

Local jail officials previously estimated the reservation fee to generate around $ 300,000 per year. The prison has never taken a daily fee.

A prison official at the Big Sandy Regional Center, which holds inmates from Johnson, Lawrence, Magoffin and Martin counties, said they had not heard of the Supreme Court ruling and are still taking booking fees and daily fees.

Lawyer Greg Belzley, who argued the case in the Supreme Court on behalf of a man who was charged with $ 4,000 for his incarceration after the case against him was dismissed, said the prisons of the The state should have immediately stopped collecting fees from detainees until the high court ruling. could be properly tracked.

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” he said. “We are more than 60 days after this decision. They must get on the stick…. Don’t you think a law enforcement agency, like jail, would know what the law is? It’s scandalous.

He also said the opinion is clear that reservation and jail fees cannot be withheld by jailers without a judge’s order.

On October 29, the Kentucky Association of Counties, or KACo, sent a statewide email to county officials about the decision, but did not specifically tell jailers what they owed. To do.

“So what does this mean for your county jail?” Read the email. “It’s not entirely clear.”

At the time, the KACo said it was working with the jailers association to analyze the decision and recommended that counties “consult with their county attorney and consider not charging prisoners” unless a judge does not order it.

KACo did not send any further clarifying correspondence to the jailers.

Daley, president of the state jailers association, said he has currently “suspended” the levy of inmate fees, but believes there is a simple solution by asking prosecutors and judges to include the language and order necessary for charges after conviction of an inmate.

“I think if we want to charge the fees, we have work to do, but we can still charge the fees,” he said. “We just have to follow the rules. “

And the funds raised, which differ considerably from county to county, are an important source of income for some prisons. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported last year that over a five-year period, Kentucky prisons billed nearly $ 21 million in inmate reservation and accommodation fees.

Graves County jailer George Workman, who stopped collecting all inmate fees after the Supreme Court ruling, said the loss of funds “will have a huge impact on the money prisons have to run. “.

The Supreme Court case revolved around the 2013 arrest of David Jones in Clark County, near Lexington.

Jones was jailed for 14 months while awaiting trial, paying an initial booking fee of $ 35 and then $ 10 a day.

Although he paid over $ 250, the prison charged him about $ 4,000 which he owed for his stay after the charges were dismissed, which sparked the trial which slowly moved into the courts of call.

Almost all states allow inmates to pay room and board fees. Kentucky has made millions of dollars since the law came into effect. About half of Kentucky’s prisons use a collection agency to prosecute inmates who owe fees.

Prisons take money from an inmate’s arrival and from a stewardship account often funded by friends or family.

When the bill was proposed in 2000, lawmakers raised concerns about inmates who could not afford the fees, as well as constitutional issues with seizing money from someone who had not yet been convicted or whose charges had been dropped, according to audio recordings of the hearings at the time.

As a condition of moving the bill forward, lawmakers agreed to amend it in the Senate to address these concerns, adding specific language to “require the sentencing court, rather than allow the county , to order reimbursement “to prisons, according to a review of the history of the bill.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court noted that the law is “unambiguous” in that “only the sentencing court has the power to order the payment of costs associated with the incarceration of a prisoner in a county jail ”.

Previously, however, arguments regarding the wording of the bill and its constitutionality were debated by other Kentucky judges and “rejected,” giving jailers the power to view these charges as reimbursement of inmate expenses, which the person was ultimately convicted or not.

Prisons continue to improperly take money from inmates since the October court ruling is expected to have to repay those funds and could be subject to litigation, lawyer Belzley said.

“We can do it easily, or we can do it the hard way,” he added. “Sooner or later they’ll do what they’re supposed to do.”

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