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Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office forgives over $500K in outstanding prisoner debt

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Posted at 4:20 PM, Feb 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-08 16:44:16-05

WASHTENAW COUNTY, Mich. (WXYZO — The Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office is forgiving more than $500,000 in outstanding debt for inmates who accrued that debt due to incarceration between Jan. 2, 2013 and Dec. 31, 2020.

While jailed, inmates held more than 24 hours receive a set of free items, the sheriff's office said. However, additional supplies and services are purchased through commissary. Inmates who can't afford these items or services can still receive them but will incur debt. The Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office says this move to forgive debt helps to relieve the stress associated with a person's day-to-day living.

“Our decision to eliminate this debt reflects our understanding of the stress and financial burden of incarceration,” said Jerry Clayton, Sheriff of Washtenaw County. “We know that as people leave our jail in hopes of positioning themselves to be successful upon returning home, the burden of jail debt is an added negative factor that can undermine their attempt at reintegration and feeds the cycle of incarceration. We also know that incarceration can seriously compromise a person’s ability to generate income, leading to even more debt. It’s this absurd cycle, along with reincarceration, that we are focused on.”

Since 2013, 31,614 inmates were impacted by a total of $509,888 in jail debt.

The county jail system says relieving this debt positively impacts jail operations by addressing the basic needs of those incarcerated, which improves inmate behavior. It also improves the health of inmates who are reluctant to seek basic health services such as seeing a doctor or dentist, which would add to their debt load.

Additionally, family members will be more likely to add to an inmate's commissary if there is no burden of debt. Currently, if there is a balance due and a family member sends money to a loved one, that money is used toward the negative balance.

The county jail is also working to change fees associated with certain jail services. Those current fees are listed below:

  • Barber = $15.00
  • Copies = (paperwork for those incarcerated) .10 cents per copy
  • Dentist = $10.00 (Normal dental visit. Emergency care is provided separately)
  • Doctor = $10.00 (Normal Dr. visit. Emergency care is provided separately)
  • Indigent Individuals = allowed $5.00/week effective last year. Prior to that it was $3.50/week.
  • Medical slips (over the counter meds) = .50 cents per dose.
  • Nurse visits = $3.00
  • Intake kits (items individuals receive above and beyond standard issued items) - $3.30

for hygiene kits / $2.30 for stationary kits

  • State booking fees = $12.00

Breakdown of existing Booking Fees and Incarceration Services related debt owed since 2013:

  • Booking Fees- 17,198 individuals = 291,318.52
  • Barber – 743 individuals = $21,729.68
  • Copies – 26 individuals = $66.95
  • Dentist – 311 individuals = $4,633.06
  • Doctor – 998 individuals = $17,398.67
  • Indigent – 2902 individuals = $73,560.46
  • Medical slips – 4583 individuals = $64,867.18
  • Nurse visits – 1622 individuals = $10,718.97
  • Intake kits – 3231 individuals = $25,594.51