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DAVIS COUNTY (AP) — A Utah judge this week ordered the Davis County Sheriff's office to stop taking money from the personal accounts of inmates to pay for lodging and medical expenses in a practice known as "pay for stay."
Judge Michael Allphin addressed the issue in court Monday during the sentencing of a 20-year-old man on forgery charges. The judge issued the order Wednesday the Standard-Examiner of Ogden reported. Allphin said the sheriff's office needs authorization from a judge in order to take money from the accounts that inmates typically use for food and other personal items.
Allphin called for a halt to the practice until further direction from the court.
The Davis County Sheriff's Office says it will comply, but it said in a press release that it wasn't doing anything illegal. Officials say their practice is no different than how other county jails handle the payments.
A law passed by the Utah Legislature in 2007 to allow counties to collect payments from inmates to shift the burden off of taxpayers.
Sheriff's officials say nobody questioned their methods until 2013, and they had already ceased collecting money until inmates are sentenced. They contend that the judge's order only complicates the matter.
The issue was first raised last year by public defender Todd Utzinger who was hearing complaints from inmates. Allphin said that he, too, had been hearing a chorus of complaints.
The Davis County Sheriff's Office says it collected nearly $370,000 from inmates in the program last year and waived an additional $858,000 it could have charged in exchange for inmate labor. The county charges inmates $10 a day to cover service costs.
Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings told the Salt Lake Tribune that taking the money without a court order and before sentencing is illegal and unconstitutional because the inmate doesn't have a chance to object. He said his office has been telling the sheriff to stop the practice since May 2013.
"I view it as a significant violation of people's rights," Rawlings told the Tribune. "They're going to get sued, and they're going to lose."
Sheriff Todd Richardson said his office is in talks with Rawlings and public defenders to determine the best practice to implement the "Pay for Stay" program.
The department's press release stated that the program benefits the community by reducing the cost to taxpayers. The department says the money comes from commissary accounts used by inmates for "luxury items such as snack foods and candy." Inmates basic needs are covered, the department said, and pointed out the law allows it to charge up to $46.85 a day.
Utzinger said he hopes the ruling in Davis County makes other sheriff's offices around the state reassess their practices, the Tribune reported.
"I don't think Davis County is alone in adopting procedures that don't comply with the statute," Utzinger said.
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