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Wadena County Jail will become 'pay to stay'

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The days of free room, board and medical care at the Wadena County Jail will be over when a pay to stay plan takes effect next year.

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Inmates will be charged $20 per day in custody for room and board plus all medical expenses and other correctional fees.

A custody day is any day or part of a day on which an inmate is held pursuant to conviction, according to the plan. This includes time served in the jail prior to conviction for which jail credit is given. Inmates will not be charged until they are sentenced.

Sheriff Mike Carr said he's been researching a pay to stay plan since he took office three years ago. He and Jail Administrator Tom Speed have gotten serious about creating some type of collections plan for the last six months, he said. Minnesota Statute 641.12 allows county boards to require offenders pay for room, board and other correctional services.

Surrounding counties have experienced a reduction in medical and dental expenses after implementing a pay to stay system, Carr told Wadena County commissioners.

"A lot of times when an inmate gets to jail they feel that they can get their teeth fixed, will often seek medical attention," he said. "Knowing that these guys can now be billed ... for this is a huge benefit to us."

The sheriff's department budgeted $50,000 for medical needs for 2009, according to Carr. As of Oct. 22, $23,000 has been spent. A heart attack or other serious medical incident could greatly increase that amount, he said in an interview.

"Frequent fliers" at the jail know how the system works, Carr added, and that the sheriff's department needs to provide medical supplies. People who don't typically take prescription medication when they're not in jail will request it when they're incarcerated. The county will still pay up front for medical needs, but now that cost will be billed to inmates, he said. The jail has been charging for shampoo, aspirin, toothbrushes and other items for the past several years, and there has been a decrease in requests for these items.

The sheriff's department has discussed a pay to stay program in the past, but it looked like it would take another person to administer the program, Speed told commissioners. After working with a couple of other counties, he discovered a system where the jail will not have to do the book work. American Billing in Little Falls will collect fees from inmates once they're released.

They will keep 10 percent of what they collect and the rest will go to the county, Speed said. American Billing will only get paid for what they collect.

If the fee is not paid after 60 days, it will be transferred to the Collection Bureau of Little Falls, Inc., Speed said.

"They say they're going to keep ... hounding them until they get the money," he said.

Morrison County and Yellow Medicine County are both happy with how this system is operating at their jails, Speed said.

Work-release inmates will not be charged for pay to stay, he said. They already pay $20 a day and the county collects 100 percent of that up front.

Carr looks at pay to stay a couple of different ways, he said. "We didn't ask them to come into our jail," he said. And crime victims are victimized a second time when they have to pay for inmates' room, board, medical care and other expenses.

The jail plans to start implementing pay to stay Jan. 1, 2010, Speed said.

Commissioners approved the sheriff's pay to stay plan contingent on a review of the contract by the county attorney.

Speed said the jail also plans to raise the booking fee from $10 to $25 starting Jan. 1. Auditor/ Treasurer Char West will put the proposed increase on the agenda for the next fee public hearing

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