Clamping Down On Jail Fees

A bill that would bar people from getting hunting and fishing licenses if they owe boarding fees for their incarceration in a county jail is a “good thing,” Franklin County Sheriff Gary Toelke said.

“Sheriffs in Missouri have always been fighting for better tools to collect those fees,” Toelke said. “Any way we can collect that money is good. Incarceration costs are a big burden on the county.”

Bill D. Miller, circuit clerk for the 20th Judicial Circuit which includes Franklin, Gasconade and Osage counties, said while there are many mechanisms in place to collect outstanding fees, there currently is an outstanding total of over $3.5 million in unpaid inmate boarding fees in the 20th circuit alone.

“This will just add another tool in the collection process,” Miller remarked.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Brian Munzlinger, also would divert any lottery winnings and state income tax refunds due to a convicted person to pay for their jail debts, which can include medical costs and court costs.

People owing outstanding jail fees also would be barred from getting or keeping a concealed gun permit until the fees are paid.

Miller said repayment of jail and court costs is the responsibility of a defendant if they are convicted of an offense. He said he receives lots of calls from convicted people who claim they were not aware that those bills would follow them.

“After two years, bills are automatically turned over to a collection agency. They know how to find people,” Miller said.

Those collectors are allowed by law to collect 20 percent of the total owed by a former inmate, which is charged in addition to the actual amount, he explained.

Toelke recalls that in the past, one judge waived outstanding jail fees and court costs in some felony cases. In one case that amounted to $150,000. In another the fees waived totaled $75,000, he said.

The Office of State Courts Administrators later established programs that allow counties, courts and the state to pursue payments of outstanding debts even after an inmate is released after serving a sentence.

While those programs have improved the amounts counties have been able to recoup, the new proposal pending in the Legislature would provide additional tools in the process.

Munzlinger’s bill received preliminary approval in the Senate last week. It needs one more affirmative Senate vote before it goes to the House where a similar measure has been introduced.