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Jail fees do not work


I recently learned that Berrien County jail charges inmates $43 a day. At that rate, individuals who are housed in the county jail for a month would owe $1,240, and those that are in for one year owe $15,652. Long-term stays in the county jail are not unusual for low-income people waiting for trial. Alleged wrongdoers who have assets get out on bail.

Nearly all jailed inmates have no income. They nearly always lose their job if they had one. They also lose Social Security and all welfare benefits if they get this kind of aid.


These large debts accrued at discharge make it very difficult to get back into society. Good credit makes for a middle-class lifestyle. I think this is especially true for those who are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, which a significant portion of the inmate population is suffering with.


I think that if the county wants to make money to pay for the cost of its jail, it might be wise to go after those wrongdoers who have income and assets.


On Aug. 1, I had the privilege to tour the jail with Sheriff Paul Bailey. He indicated that little to no money is retrieved from released prisoners. Sheriff Bailey indicated the debts are sent to a collection agency. This makes them all credit risks. This makes it more likely for them to get into more trouble. Sheriff Bailey indicated the state in 1984 gave county commissioners the right to bill up to $60 per day for the jailed inmates. He said the county commission told him to bill $43. Consequently, he did so. He said if the commissioners told him not to, he would stop.


My tour of the jail took two hours with Bailey. I was impressed with the cleanliness and orderliness of the jail. The sheriff and staff were always professional. In my opinion they are doing a heroic job. However, it is a depressing place not only for the prisoners, but also for the staff. There have been numerous incidents of problems at the jail, and just this year four inmates have died. It is not a place for sick people, for sure.


In the next election, we would all be better served by electing Democrats to the important county commission. At the present time, nine of 12 of the county commissioners are Republicans. Current Republicans seem to be wrapped up on combating "woke," rather than making the county a better place to live. Democrats are more likely to correct these problems. Nearly all these inmates will be back on the street at some point. Let’s hope for all of us these inmates are better when released.


Kenneth J. Orlich

St. Joseph

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