Local minister Tom Thompson asked magistrates Tuesday to reconsider a previous decision to hire an outside collection agency that is responsible for collecting debt accrued by inmates who have been convicted and lodged in the Logan County Detention Center. Thompson said he felt this would be a hardship on the inmates, who already have a strike against them when they get out of jail.
In November, at the recommendation of the state auditor, a majority of Fiscal Court approved to hire an outside agency to collect inmate debt, however, it was not mandated. The county actually voted in 2003 to begin collecting the debt themselves, but nothing really came of it until now.
Thompson, who is involved in an advocacy group for inmates called ACTS (Another Chance To Succeed), says this will be detrimental to those who come out of jail and want to try and do better. The program helps inmates for a few months when they get out, but putting one more roadblock in their way will hurt, says Thompson. ACTS gets released inmates involved in a church family and tries to find them employment and housing. Thompson admits it’s a difficult job sometimes finding employment for someone who has a record because people do not want to trust them, which although is a mindset he understands, is one he believes has to change to help these individuals succeed.
If an individual is convicted and they serve out their sentence, said Thompson, then they should be done and not have a debt hanging over their heads, which would be difficult to pay, especially if they cannot find a job right away.
According to Jailer Bill Jenkins and Judge/Executive Logan Chick, the county moved on this issue because of the state auditor’s recommendation. The county can choose to collect on booking and processing fees, housing, medical and prescription costs. They may even be able to go back five years.
Thompson, who continued his plea to the court Tuesday, said the county is trying to get money out of inmates that are trying to get their feet on the ground and says this doesn’t send a good message to them.
“If they have no money, there is a good chance they will go back to jail,” Thompson said. “Our job in life is to be giving people a second chance. We want to see them achieve and be responsible.”
Magistrate Russell Poore said he wasn’t cold hearted and understood it would be a hardship, but added that the Logan County taxpayers didn’t ask them (inmates) to go down there (jail). He said he knew there were some getting out of jail that would try and do right, but he had to look after the taxpayer’s money.
Magistrate Jo Orange says she feels guilty because she was one of the members of court who voted to do this years ago. She did it because she felt it may act as a deterrent to those who may commit a crime, but now admits it hasn’t worked and she thinks it is now just a hardship that should be thrown out. Orange voted no in November to hire the outside agency.
Orange made a motion Tuesday to fire the collection agency that was hired by the county in November. Her motion died for lack of a second. Magistrate Drexel Johnson did suggest, however, the issue be brought back up and talked about more at a future meeting.