Wichita City Council approves jail feesBY RICK PLUMLEE
The Wichita Eagle
People arrested by Wichita police and taken to jail on municipal offenses would pay for their jail cell if they are convicted under a proposal given preliminary approval.
The Wichita City Council voted 5-0 to approve the fee Tuesday after no discussion. Mayor Carl Brewer and council member Pete Meitzner were out of town. Final approval is expected next week after the ordinance change is heard for a required second time.
The city would charge $2 per hour spent in the Sedgwick County Jail. It's an effort to recoup costs; the county charges the city $2.09 per hour for people jailed on municipal charges. The city also would charge a booking fee of $10.
A person found not guilty wouldn't be required to pay the fees.
All municipal court cases involve misdemeanors. Such municipal charges as battery, domestic violence, driving under the influence, and drug charges could bring jail time.
City officials estimate they would collect only 20 percent of assessed jail fees in the first year.
Although that collection rate is low, it still translates to less money that "has to be paid by the general fund," Municipal Court Administrator Donte Martin said after the meeting.
The city has struggled to pay its jail fees since the county began them in 2008. Through July, the city has paid more than $1.3 million in jail feels to the county this year.
Defense attorneys have questioned the fees, saying they are self-defeating because someone in jail would have a hard time paying additional costs.
Topeka and Overland Park also charge jail fees.
Overland Park has been assessing jail fees since 1997, when the state law first allowed it. The city's collection rate for jail fees was 39 percent in 2009 and 31 percent last year.
"It's kind of followed the economy," Overland Park Municipal Court administrator Robin Barnard said. "People who didn't have money before really don't have it now."
She said that rate could dip to 27 percent in 2011.
Topeka couldn't provide its collection rate, but Martin said he understood it to be less than 30 percent.
In both Overland Park and Topeka, the judge has the option to waive the jail fees for a defendant.
Wichita's proposed ordinance says the jail fees are mandatory and can't be waived.
Martin said the city is taking a comprehensive look at ways to reduce its jail costs paid to the county.
That includes the police looking at its booking procedures and the city's law department reviewing its diversion program, which keeps people out of jail.Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or email@example.com.
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