Inmates could be required to pay incarceration costs

The Judiciary Committee heard testimony March 16 on a bill that would permit a city correctional facility, county or the state to seek reimbursement of an inmate’s incarceration costs.

LB609, introduced by Omaha Sen. Pete Pirsch, would require an inmate to disclose his or her assets on a form developed by the state Department of Corrections and evaluated by a prosecuting attorney.

Under the bill, an inmate would be required to pay some incarceration costs if he or she has assets that would cover the lesser of 10 percent of the total cost, or 10 percent of the cost of two years’ incarceration. The amount of reimbursement could not exceed $35 per day or 90 percent of the inmate’s total assets. The court also would consider an inmate’s legal obligations to a spouse, children or other dependents.

Failure to pay could affect an inmate’s eligibility for parole. An inmate without sufficient funds would not be required to pay for his or her incarceration costs.

Pirsch said the elimination of state aid to counties that accrue costs for incarceration is becoming a problem. The goal of the bill is to provide counties with a mechanism that could offset their pending losses, he said.

Sean Kelley of the Douglas County Board of Commissioners testified in support of the bill, saying it could provide revenue for a department costing $44 million annually to operate.

“We are constantly looking for ways to help alleviate the financial stress of [our] department,” Kelley said.

Jeff Lux, deputy county attorney for Douglas County, testified in opposition to the bill, saying it could be expensive and unconstitutional.

Approximately 2,200 people enter correctional facilities monthly, Lux said, so smaller county attorneys’ offices may not have the necessary resources to determine inmates’ assets. Furthermore, he said, punishing inmates twice by requiring them to pay for their incarceration costs could be considered double jeopardy.

Greg London of the Nebraska Sheriffs’ Association also testified in opposition to the bill. A significant number of inmates have no assets, he said, so the bill would not generate a large amount of revenue.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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