Charging for Involuntary Services 

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2021

When I read the headline “Kentucky Supreme Court says jails can’t charge fees to inmates who weren’t convicted”, my immediate thought was “But they can charge fees to inmates who are convicted?”. And indeed, that’s currently permitted.

The jail’s bill was based on a booking fee of $35, a $10 per diem for each day of his confinement, a $5 fee for hygiene supplies when he arrived and $2.69 for hygiene replacement supplies, the county’s lawyers told the Supreme Court.

This isn’t punishment, the county’s lawyers said, it’s just the county’s cost of doing business.

“For their services, jailers can impose and collect fees authorized by (state law) to partially offset the costs of confinement,” the county’s lawyers wrote in their briefs. “The statute is not punitive and there is nothing illegal or inherently unfair about imposing fees for services rendered to persons in custody,” they wrote. “Neither the Kentucky Constitution, the Kentucky Revised Statutes or common law require a refund of those fees if the person is found innocent.”

Charging fees to someone who was wrongfully imprisoned is obviously abhorrent. Really, however, these fees are horrible no matter what. Framing this as payment for services rendered is rather disingenuous, given that the “customer” in question is a prisoner with no choice in the matter.


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