Federal Judge rules Ky. jailers can seize inmates funds to pay for their incarceration

Judge Bertlesman cited   KRS 441.265 Required reimbursement by prisoner of costs of confinement — Local policy of fee and expense rates — Billing and collection methods.

(1) A prisoner in a county jail shall be required by the sentencing court to reimburse the county for expenses incurred by reason of the prisoner’s confinement as set out in this section, except for good cause shown.

(2) (a) The jailer may adopt, with the approval of the county’s governing body, a prisoner fee and expense reimbursement policy, which may include, but not be limited to, the following:

1. An administrative processing or booking fee; 2. A per diem for room and board of not more than fifty dollars ($50) perday or the actual per diem cost, whichever is less, for the entire period of time the prisoner is confined to the jail;

3. Actual charges for medical and dental treatment; and 4. Reimbursement for county property damaged or any injury caused by the prisoner while confined to the jail.

(b) Rates charged may be adjusted in accordance with the fee and expense reimbursement policy based upon the ability of the prisoner confined to the jail to pay, giving consideration to any legal obligation of the prisoner to support a spouse, minor children, or other dependents. The prisoner’s interest in any jointly owned property and the income, assets, earnings, or other property owned by the prisoner’s spouse or family shall not be used to determine a prisoner’s ability to pay.

(3) The jailer or his designee may bill and attempt to collect any amount owed which remains unpaid. The governing body of the county may, upon the advice of the jailer, contract with one (1) or more public agencies or private vendors to perform this billing and collection. Within twelve (12) months after the date of the prisoner’s release from confinement, the county attorney, jailer, or the jailer’s designee, may file a civil action to seek reimbursement from that prisoner for any amount owed which remains unpaid.

(4) Any fees or reimbursement received under this section shall be forwarded to the county treasurer for placement in the jail’s budget.

(5) The governing body of the county may require a prisoner who is confined in the county jail to pay a reasonable fee, not exceeding actual cost, for any medical treatment or service received by the prisoner. However, no prisoner confined in the jail shall be denied any necessary medical care because of inability to pay.

(6) Payment of any required fees may be automatically deducted from the prisoner’s property or canteen account. If the prisoner has no funds in his account, a deduction may be made creating a negative balance. If funds become available or if the prisoner reenters the jail at a later date, the fees may be deducted from the prisoner’s property or canteen account.

(7) Prior to the prisoner’s release, the jailer or his designee may work with the confined prisoner to create a reimbursement plan to be implemented upon the prisoner’s release. At the end of the prisoner’s incarceration, the prisoner shall be presented with a billing statement produced by the jailer or designee. After the prisoner’s release, the jailer or his designee may, after negotiation with the prisoner, release the prisoner from all or part of the prisoner’s repayment obligation if the jailer believes that the prisoner will be unable to pay the full amount due.

(8) No per diem shall be charged to any prisoner who is required to pay a work release fee pursuant to KRS 439.179, a prisoner that has been ordered to pay a reimbursement fee by the court pursuant to KRS 534.045, or that the Department of Corrections is financially responsible for housing.

(9) No medical reimbursement, except that provided for in KRS 441.045, shall be charged to any prisoner that the Department of Corrections is financially responsible for housing.

Effective: July 14, 2000

History: Created 2000 Ky. Acts ch. 537, sec. 1, effective July 14, 2000.

The Ky. Post reported: 

In a ruling issued last week, U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman dismissed a lawsuit filed against the Kenton County Jail by Aretta Baughn, who argued that the method used to take money from her jail account violated her due process.

Cincinnati attorney Robert Newman also filed two similar lawsuits for inmates in Campbell County.

Bertelsman said none of the lawsuits had any merit to go forward.

State law allows for the deductions from so-called “canteen accounts,” and all inmates are aware of the procedure, the judge said. Indeed, the lawsuits did not question the law or the legality of the deductions.

Inmates are not allowed to have cash while in jail, so the accounts are set up to enable them to buy food or small personal items sold by the jail. Often, their families or friends deposit the money. The accounts generally are small, with less than $50 in them.

The inmates claimed the money should not be deducted until they are formally sentenced to jail.

Bertelsman agreed the law is somewhat ambiguous on that point, but said the inmates’ argument fails the logic test.

“If subsection (6) of the statute … is to be given any meaning, imposition of the fees cannot be delayed until sentencing,” he said.

“If the prisoner is confined until sentencing, by that time substantial funds will have passed through the account. The prisoner can easily be certain that he has a zero balance at the time of sentencing. Many prisoners receive pretrial diversion or the charges are otherwise disposed of without any sentencing having occurred.”

He also said the law defines prisoner as any person confined to jail, whether or not that person is ever sentenced.

“Therefore, the court holds that the correct reading of the statute is that the fees may be imposed as soon as the prisoner is booked into the jail and may be periodically deducted from the prisoner’s account as provided by local regulation,” he said.

He also said the jail’s process for collecting from the accounts is proper, and it is not relevant that some of the money might have been deposited by someone other than the inmate.

Kenton County Attorney Garry Edmondson called the decision an important victory for all counties.

“The order recognizes that inmates, not the taxpayers, should bear the cost of their own incarceration,” he said. “Last year, the county was able to recoup a quarter of a million dollars from inmates in the county jail.”

By Paul A. Long
Post staff reporter

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