Sheriff thinks charging inmates for jail stay way to solve budget problems

Monday, January 21st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GUYMON, Okla. (AP) _ Texas County Sheriff Arnold Peoples believes he's got a way to solve the budget problems of his peers across the state.

In addition to any fines levied against people who are arrested, Peoples assesses a $35 a day cost for staying in his jail. He's done this for 10 years and thinks other sheriff's departments across the state should do the same.

``It's legal and it's available,'' Peoples said. ``It works well for us and I believe it would work well for other counties, especially those in financial trouble.

``It takes some of the financial burden off the taxpayer and puts it where it belongs.''

The Texas County Sheriff's Department makes about $8,000 a month of charging inmates for their stay. That's about 30 percent of Peoples' budget.

The law was passed in 1991 and allows sheriffs to charge inmates the actual cost, as determined by the sheriff, for their stay in the jail. It's up to the judge to impose the fees.

The law was amended in 1999 to allow 5 percent to go to the district attorney's office, a victim's compensation fund and the court clerk's office.

An Oklahoma County judge recently ordered John Hamilton, the Oklahoma City doctor convicted of killing his wife, to pay $11,104 to the county for the cost of his jail stay.

It was the first time an Oklahoma County defendant has been ordered to make such a payment, but District Attorney Wes Lane said it won't be the last.

Lane, who became district attorney in July, said seeking reimbursement for the cost of incarceration will become his policy.

Peoples said about 80 percent of inmates pay their fees.

A hearing is set for three years after incarceration fees are assessed to check on the person's payment progress. If the person fails to pay their costs, a bench warrant is issued and deputies arrest the person, Peoples said.

``Very seldom do we have to do that,'' he said.

Inmates don't have to pay their fees until they leave prison. They get 60 days to find a job and start paying. Anyone who can't pay has the option of returning to jail and earning $25 a day toward costs by staying there.

Texas County also charges inmates for medical attention and transportation. Peoples estimates those charges generate $15,000 to $20,000 a year each.

Peoples said Cimarron, Harper and Beaver counties all charge inmates for their prison stay. Other counties are beginning to see the advantages of the law.

Mayes County Sheriff Frank Cantey said starting Feb. 1, he will charge inmates $20 a day and also will charge them for any medical costs.

Cantey had $50,000 in his budget this fiscal year for medical costs but ran out in December.

``What we need is a long-term solution, and we're hoping this is that solution,'' he said.