Inmates charged $1 a day for rent

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RICHMOND, Va. (NNPA)—A new jail is on the way, but for now Richmond inmates are having to help pay for upkeep of the overcrowded and decrepit facility where they are kept.

City Sheriff C.T. Woody Jr. is charging inmates $1 a day to stay at the city jail to help cover the cost of operations. He expects to raise between $60,000 and $200,000 a year from the fee. He began imposing the charge April 15, he said in a recent interview.

He joined Chesterfield County and some other jails around Virginia and across the country in imposing the charge that is permitted under state laws.

How do inmates pay? Sheriff Wood deducts the money from inmates’ commissary accounts. Usually funded by relatives and friends, the money allows prisoners to pay for phone calls and buy candy, clothes and personal items from the jail’s commissary.

Sheriff Woody said every inmate is assessed the fee, but it is collected only if there is money in the account. He said he has no plans to garnish tax refunds or to hire a collection agency to get unpaid fees from released inmates unable to pay while in jail, practices some jails follow.

But he said he would try to collect the debt if someone with a balance is rearrested and then has commissary money. He also allows inmates who have been acquitted in court to apply for a refund.

Jails in Virginia have been permitted to charge such fees since 2003.

The maximum previously was $1 per day; General Assembly increased the limit to $3 on July 1. Sheriff Woody said his department has no plans to increase the jail’s daily rate from $1. Virginia’s $3 maximum is still minimal compared with the charges imposed by jails in other states. The Salt Lake County Metro Jail in Utah assesses a $40 daily fee on its inmates; Taney County Jail in Missouri charges $45 per day; and the Klamath County Jail in Oregon charges $60 a day.

(Special to the NNPA from the Richmond Free Press.)

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