Washtenaw County Sheriff's office announces debt forgiveness of jail accounts

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The Washtenaw County Sheriff ’s Office with support of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, announced Sheriff Jerry Clayton’s decision to forgive any and all outstanding jail debt for individuals who accrued that debt while incarcerated within the Washtenaw County Jail at anytime from Jan. 1, 2013 to Dec. 31, 2020.

Under the State Correctional Facility Reimbursement Act, Sheriffs have the right to recover any and all monies that incarcerated individuals owe as a result of their incarceration.

The Sheriff ’s Office is committed to ensuring everyone in custody receives appropriate care and is treated with dignity and respect. Each individual lodged in the facility for more than 24 hours receives a set of items free of charge intended to help meet their basic needs. Anyone needing additional supplies and services can purchase them from the Commissary. Individuals that receive items and services without the financial ability to pay, incur a debt.


Historically, the WCSO has not aggressively pursued nonpayment of this debt through creditors or other means, but the debt held over someone can add to the stress associated with their day-to-day living. “Our decision to eliminate this debt reflects our understanding of the stress and f inancial burden of incarceration,” said Sheriff Clayton. “We know that as people leave our jail in hope of positioning themselves to be successful upon returning home, the burden of jail debt is an added negative factor that can undermine their attempt at reintegration and feed the cycle of incarceration. We also know that incarceration can seriously compromise a person’s ability to generate income, leading to even more debt. It’s this absurd cycle, along with reincarceration, that we are focused on.”


During a recent review of debt owed since 2013, corrections staff identified 31,614 individuals impacted by a total debt of $509,888. Relieving the burden of debt impacts jail operations in several ways.


1. Without the debt, individuals are better positioned to meet basic needs beyond what the jail provides; and behavior within the jail is improved. This is a key contributor to maintaining safety for staff, volunteers, and incarcerated individuals.


2. Individuals with existing debt are reluctant to seek basic services, like seeing the doctor or visiting the dentist for fear of incurring additional debt. This leads to more significant medical and dental conditions and may result in more expensive emergency care. County taxpayers are financially obligated to cover emergency care and subsequently the budgetary impact on jail operations is significant.


3. Currently, if a family member of incarcerated individuals deposits money into an account where debt is owed, the amount deposited is seized and allocated towards the debt. This discourages families from financially supporting their incarcerated loved ones and in some cases is a barrier to family involvement and reunification.


The WCSO has previously taken steps to reduce the cost of incarceration in several ways.


Read the complete release at https://www.washtenaw.org/DocumentCenter/ View/19502/Debt-Forgiveness-of-Jail-Accounts?bidId




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