September 18, 2011

If you're jailed in Wichita, you may have to foot the cell bill

People arrested by Wichita police and taken to jail on municipal offenses may have to start paying for their jail cell.

People arrested by Wichita police and taken to jail on municipal offenses may have to start paying for their jail cell.

Under a proposal the Wichita City Council will consider Tuesday, the city would charge municipal court defendants $48 for each day they spend in jail plus a one-time booking fee of $10.

The city says it is considering such fees to offset the bill it gets every month from Sedgwick County.

“We are trying help offset the costs for providing public safety, adjudicating the court cases and the jail fees that are being assessed by the county,” said Sharon Dickgrafe, chief deputy city attorney.

The county began charging cities a $2.09-per-hour fee in 2008 for every hour a municipal defendant spends in jail. Struggling with jail overcrowding, the county thought the fees could make cities think twice about sending people to jail on municipal offenses.

As of last month, the city of Wichita had paid $1,090,443 in jail fees to the county, and $11.7 million was wiped out by a land swap and a partial write-off. The county each year studies jail costs for the purpose of determining how much the federal government should reimburse it for housing federal inmates. The county bases the hourly fee it charges cities on that study. The direct cost of housing an inmate was $56.83 per day, or $2.37 per hour.

That’s 28 cents more than what the county is charging the cities.

Direct costs vary according to the number of inmates, said the county’s chief financial officer, Chris Chronis,. The most significant direct costs are personnel, which came in at $17.5 million last year; prisoner medical care, $4.8 million last year; and food, $1.4 million last year.

Chronis said there is no recommendation at this time to raise the hourly fee.

County Commissioner Dave Unruh said he thinks the hourly fee should keep up with the county’s costs. The county hasn’t increased the fee since it started implementing it, he noted.

“We need to get it on our agenda and have a discussion,” he said.

The resolution the county passed on jail fees said the fee was based on direct costs. If those have increased, the fee should as well, he said.

“If we don’t stick with the audited number, we need to have some logic and reason for what we’re doing,” he said.

Commissioner Karl Peterjohn said “I’d like to have the costs being covered for those prisoners who have been sentenced in municipal court for misdemeanor offenses.”

The $4 increase for court costs includes $2 for a domestic violence program and $2 for public defenders. The domestic violence fee has been the same since 1996, and the public defender fee has not gone up since 1992, Dickgrafe said.

Defendants also would not be able to perform community service to get out of paying court costs. They still would be able to pay off court fines through community service.

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