Delaware County’s Jail Oversight Board moved to reinstate some inmate fees at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility, which were paused at the start of the pandemic.
On Tuesday, the board approved a $100 booking fee for incoming individuals, property damage charges and co-pays for health care services for those nurse or doctor calls deemed not legitimate that would apply to the 1,257 inmates at the county facility.
Warden Laura Williams explained that the prison had collected a $100 booking processing fee for new commitments into the institution.
“At this time, I’m simply requesting consideration that we reinstate the booking fee to offset some of the costs within the institution,” Williams said, adding that the revenue generated from this fee would go to the county general fund.
The previous warden, Donna Mellon, had asked to suspend the booking fee at the onset of COVID.
“It should be an amount that represents offsetting some administrative cost for the county,” county Controller and JOB member Joanne Phillips said. “It’s not a tax. We don’t want to create the debtor’s prison idea that we’re burdening people with other fees.”
Board member Brian Corson added that the fee also represents a level of accountability, which is part of rehabilitation.
The warden explained that if an inmate is discharged and they owe any monies to the county, it remains a part of their balance on their permanent record and it is reactivated if they are reincarcerated.
Additionally, she explained that if they enter the prison with money on their person, those funds are applied to the account, with 50 percent of the amount deposited put towards an outstanding balance.
If they have any money in their account when they discharge, the prison takes the full amount to fulfill whatever debt is owed before issuing the individual the balance, Williams said.
The board agreed on reinstituting the $100 booking fee but took Delaware County Councilman and board Chairman Kevin Madden’s recommendation into account that they would revisit the issue to determine if that is the appropriate amount or whether it would need to be changed at a later date.
Secondly, the board voted to reinstitute the property damages charges for inmates.
Williams said there was an inventory of items issued to inmates at the beginning of their stay, including towels, uniforms, shoes and mattresses that could be applied here, as well as items such as a damaged light or a broken window or fixture, like a cell toilet, due to the inmate’s manipulation.
“There is an enormous amount of wear-and-tear without accountability and that is problematic,” she explained.
In line with this, she said there would be a facilities assessment performed at the prison to determine what is and what’s not damaged.
Williams said cases that would apply to these charges would be someone tearing their sheets to create a clothesline, another destroying their mattress to block the door with it and another person damaging a light because they are angry.
These charges are being reinstituted as the county prepares to outfit inmates with digital tablets.
“Those are not inexpensive,” Williams said. “Ultimately, if they were all broken tomorrow, I don’t think we’d be able to justify as a county replacing those with taxpayer dollars so I need to put some fail-safes in place to protect the number of different assets.”
Thirdly, co-pays were reinstituted for health care services through board approval. As a result, visits to the doctor or dentist would be $5 and visits to the nurse would be $3 – but not in all cases.
The warden explained this was suspended during COVID out of a concern the cost would deter people from seeking these services. She said other facilities have begun to reinstitute them due to inflation and overuse of these services, in particular those that are not deemed to be medically necessary.
“This does not apply to chronic care appointments, appointments that are scheduled by the health care provider or assessments or referrals that are deemed by the healthcare provider as being necessary,” Williams said. “This does not apply to the routine follow up for those appointments. It does not apply to prescription medications.”
One change was the absence of correctional officer staffing reports. When the prison was privately owned, monthly reports were given as to the number of correctional officers on duty.
Board member Deborah Love said that’s an important statistic to provide.
“Positions filled is important for safety of not only the employees, but of the residents, and it’s important for the entire residency of Delaware County to know what this movement from a privately owned jail to owned by the county what is happening with it,” she said. “I just think we’re missing the mark by not sharing how safe we are keeping and how we are working towards making a safe environment.”
Madden responded that he appreciated her desire for transparency “where it is in the best interest of the safety of our inmates and our workforce.”
He said when the prison was privately owned, the company needed to be held accountable, especially as the county received staffing penalty fees based on what the staffing levels were.
“That is a very different circumstance than when the county is managing the jail directly,” Madden said. “Absent a third party vendor who we are holding accountable, there is absolutely no justification in the interest of the safety of our workforce and our inmates to be overly specific about staffing levels when such information could be used by inmates to comprise the safety of our workforce or their fellow inmates. So, I am steadfastly opposed to over-being transparent when it compromises safety.”