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Workgroup on Jail Fees Releases Report

A workgroup to make recommendations regarding the reduction or elimination of certain fees charged to individuals incarcerated in local or regional jails released its report last week. The State Board of Local and Regional Jails convened the group at the direction of legislation passed during the 2022 General Assembly session. As introduced, the legislation would have capped or eliminated certain fees or costs, such as charges for telephone services (the legislation required telephone services to be provided at no cost for numbers on an approved call list) or the cost of items sold in jail stores or commissaries (the legislation capped the cost of items sold at 10 percent above the market rate for items or services sold by major retail stores). Due to the complexity of the issues involved and the potential financial impact on jail operations, the legislation was converted to a study directive, with a report due December 1, 2022. With dissent from the workgroup members representing sheriffs and regional jails, the workgroup has recommended reintroducing the 2022 legislation.

At the workgroup’s June meeting, although the workgroup had no quorum and could not take official action, members discussed conducting a survey of jails to determine what fees are being charged and for what purposes funds are being used. At its August 30 meeting, members discussed the details of the proposed survey, which was subsequently sent to jails. At the November 7 meeting, members discussed survey responses; 28 responses were received from 59 local and regional jails, along with 26 contracts for communications services, a contract for commissary services and a contract for medical services. In the view of some members of the workgroup, this information was too limited to be of use in formulating recommendations, so the Compensation Board’s annual Jail Cost Report was used instead.

A subsequent meeting was held on November 29 to finalize the report, to include establishment of a process for submission of dissenting viewpoints. Concerns raised at this meeting by representatives of sheriffs and regional jails included the limitations of the Jail Cost Report in reflecting expenditures on jail programs; the lack of substantive discussion in subcommittees that were planned to examine issues related to communications, commissary, and other costs, but did not meet; and the potential impact on jail operations if revenue streams were removed without replacements. Senator Morrissey, who chaired the workgroup, stated his view that public funds should be used to provide programming and other essentials in jails; he also expressed his intention to avoid unfunded mandates on localities.

The report is available at this link.

VACo Contact: Katie Boyle

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