Following the lead of several other counties in the state, Burlington County Freeholders have given tentative approval to the levying of a $50 processing fee on all inmates committed to the Burlington County Detention Center and Correctional Work Release Center to offset mounting health care costs.
Freeholder Director Bruce Garganio said the fees, which will be assessed at the time inmates are processed into the jail, are expected to generate upwards of $150,000 in the first year.
“In recent years, the annual cost of providing medical care to inmates, including instances of hospitalization, have totaled more than $800,000,” said Garganio. “When all the bills were added up for 2011, that number skyrocketed to $1.1 million.”
Once an individual is incarcerated, the county is obligated to address medical issues which may arise. Unless the inmate has private health care coverage, the cost of their care falls on the county.
“These are taxpayer dollars that are being exploited to pay medical costs of jail inmates,” Garganio said. “Our goal is to do everything we can to recoup as much of these costs as possible.”
According to warden Lawrence Artis, the Detention Center processes approximately 8,000 new “commits” per year. He said, based on information collected from other counties, at least 38 percent of these new inmates would have funds available to pay the processing charge.
Those without personal funds at the time they’re processed would have a “lien” assessed against them. If funds are deposited into their inmate accounts at a later date, the processing fee would be collected at that time.
An extensive study of inmate fees collected in county facilities across the state revealed 13 counties already have fees in place. The intake, or “booking,” fee ranges from $25 (Passaic County) to $125 (Ocean County). Ocean County also collects a daily fee of $10.
Many counties have had fees in place for a number of years, the earliest being Middlesex, which began collecting processing fees in 1999. In 2010, Essex County collected $560,000 in revenue from processing fees.
Garganio said freeholders would work with the warden to explore other “fee” options, perhaps putting in place a video visit system and fee which would enable inmates to “visit” electronically with friends or relatives at a moderate cost, avoiding the need for family to travel to the facility for a visitation. This also would reduce jail costs associated with in-person visits. The technology being explored is very similar to Skype, which permits visual and voice interaction through computers.
“We have an obligation to taxpayers to explore any and all options for having jail inmates pay their own way,” he said. “We’re calling the imposition of this $50 charge just the starting point.”
- Information provided by the Office of the Burlington County Freeholders