Some of the region’s most vulnerable people and their families have had $3.4 million more to spend between them over the past two months because the St. Louis County Council listened to Lt. Col. Troy Doyle, interim director of the St. Louis County Department of Justice Services.
In July, Doyle advised that the county eliminate six jail fees, and the council passed an ordinance eliminating those fees in late August.
The county eliminated a $70 booking fee, $20 bond fee charged to someone who posts bond, a $2 fee charged each time an inmate is seen by a nurse, a $5 fee charged each time an inmate is seen by a dentist, a $5 fee for dispensing medication, and a $20 medical assessment fee charged each time an individual is incarcerated.
The fees were put in place by the St. Louis County Council in 2009.
“Many of the individuals in custody already face significant financial hardships,” said Doyle, a veteran leader in the St. Louis County Police Department. “It is counter-productive for us to make things more difficult for those reentering the community after their release by saddling them with jail debt.”
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said the reduced financial burden will help people transition to more productive lives upon release.
“Eliminating a financial burden on people coming out of custody will help them find a job, housing, and a better way of life,” Page said.
Page noted that many of these people are non-violent individuals who are in need of permanent housing, employment, and mental health and drug treatment services. Those with limited financial resources are more likely to become homeless, reoffend and wind up back in custody, he said.
It currently costs taxpayers about $80 a day to keep someone incarcerated in the County jail.
“Our primary goal is to provide a secure jail environment and help keep our community safe,” Doyle said. “But we also want to give inmates the opportunity to successfully re-enter the community. Wiping clean their jail debts can help facilitate that transition.”
One expert on ex-offender issues who made that transition (from federal prison, not county jail) applauded the move.
"Many people in jail are there precisely because they lacked resources in the first place. Sending them home in deeper debt and poorer health only perpetuates the vicious cycles in which many vulnerable people find themselves,” said Jeff Smith, former state senator and author of the memoir “Mr. Smith Goes to Prison."
“If we want people to return to our communities healthier, this move is both humane and economical. Let's help people access necessary health care while in custody so that they can be best prepared for steady, successful employment and reintegration into our region's social fabric upon their release. This makes far more sense than allowing people's medical conditions to worsen in custody, which makes them more likely to end up clogging emergency rooms, costing hospitals a fortune in uncompensated care, or, in extreme cases, losing their lives."