As the first day of fall rolls up on the calendar today, the Jackson County Commission goes forward with some freshly organized departments and a new policy at the Jackson County jail.
Starting Oct. 1, inmates there must pay $2.70 a day for their meals. The proposal was approved in a recent commission meeting.
Jackson County jail administrator Mark Foreman brought that suggestion to the board in February, saying that, even if only half the expected revenue were to be realized, the county could see roughly $98,800 annually. And that’s more than enough, he said, to pay for the $150-per-month hazard pay he wants to offer all employees at the correctional facility. It employs roughly 41 correctional officers and another eight in support positions.
Foreman had been tasked with trying to find ways to recruit and retain employees when, in a previous meeting, he had told the board of his difficulties in doing that. Foreman said he had researched and found it is lawful, in order to extract what he termed as a “daily subsistence fee,” to dip into the accounts the inmates are allowed to have held for them at the jail.
Commissioners initially tabled the notion, directing Foreman to check with court officials to get their input on the matter.
The board eventually approved it as a pilot program, subject to discontinuation after a trial period of some months, if it doesn’t work as Foreman predicted.
As the plan’s start date looms, some who have loved ones in the facility wonder how it will affect the welfare of those incarcerated.
Some questions have surfaced. One person wanted to know if the money placed into their accounts by family members and friends will be automatically tapped for the purpose, or if the contributor can earmark what they send for specific uses, like hygiene items.
That individual also feared that loved ones in lock-up might go hungry if their accounts have zero balances, or whether they would be able to eat but owe a big meal fee at the end of their time in jail. And if that were the case, the person wondered, would their release depend upon first paying the debt.
Some answers to those concerns were provided by interim jail chief Capt. Jammie Jeter — he’s tasked with implementing the new fee for Foreman, who is on temporary assignment overseeing Jackson County Fire Rescue, while the fire chief’s position is vacant.
No inmate will be denied food if their account doesn’t have money to cover the fee, he said, and their release dates will not be affected in any way by the fact that they might owe money for their meals. Instead, the debt would be kept on the books for three years and taken out of any money that would come into their account, if they were to return to jail on other offenses during that time. After three years, the debt would be wiped clean.
There was also a concern expressed as to whether this will signal a change in the current policy of withholding 60 percent of the funds in inmate accounts to cover debts they incur while in jail, for things like the mandatory $25 booking fee, and foreseen expenses. Currently, if an inmate has, for example, $100 placed in their account, $60 is earmarked for the booking fee and for other potential expenses, while $40 is left free for the inmate to use as they choose in the commissary, for snacks and other products they’re entitled to obtain.
Jeter said the meal fees will be taken out of the 60 percent currently withheld, and that the 40 percent would remain at large for the inmate. Any money not spent would go back to the inmate upon his or her release.
Jeter provided other details: The fee will only be charged to inmates who spend at least 24 hours in lock-up. It will be charged regardless of whether they choose to eat or not, since the expense of the mandatorily provided meals will have already been incurred.
If an inmate is indigent, he or she will still be fed. The expense will go against their account for three years, but there will be no attempt to place a lien on property or to bill a family member for the expense. The money owing will not be placed on a credit report.
See accompanying story other, unrelated changes implemented by county government in recent days.