SW Mo sheriff wants inmates to help with costs

Sunday, April 19, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD — Some say crime doesn't pay, but a southwest Missouri sheriff wants inmates in his county to shell out money to help cover medical care and booking costs.

Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott has been looking at ways to bring in revenue after county commissioners asked department heads for budget-cutting ideas last month. Commissioners needed to cut 7.5 percent from next year's general revenue budget — roughly $2.4 million in reductions.

Besides charging inmates, the sheriff's office has set up a new fee schedule for people seeking public records from the office. Booking photos, investigative reports, inmate files and other records are $5 each. Digital photo discs and audio recordings under a half-hour are $15.

The sheriff's office also has applied for increased reimbursements for housing federal inmates.

"We looked at all the operations and looked at where we are spending a lot of time doing things we're not getting compensated for," Arnott said.

He said the jail technically charges a $20 booking fee and a $5 co-pay for inmate medical care, but rarely collects on those fees. The jail has no means of getting payments from an inmate unless he or she has money in a commissary account.

Arnott is asking judges to make the medical care and booking payments part of inmates' sentences with hopes of getting money from those prisoners who can afford it.

"I don't think the judges would assess the fees on cases where it's not going to be successful," he said.

Taney County, also in southwest Missouri, started a similar program last month. The county prosecutor, Jeff Merrell, is asking inmates to pay $45 for each day they are jailed as part of their plea deals — shifting the cost from the county to the inmate.

"What prompted the idea is just the fact that we have this nice new facility and it's not cheap to run," Merrell said. "Maybe we should let the people who committed the crimes pay for it if possible."


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