Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office forgives over $500,000 in jail debt

Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton. (Credit: Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office announced that it has forgiven $509,888 of outstanding debt incurred by 31,614 individuals while at Washtenaw County Jail.

Debt is taken on when those incarcerated cannot afford to buy personal items from a commissionary, pay booking fees or pay for medical and dental services, among other things.

The decision, made by Sheriff Jerry Clayton and supported by the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, affects community members incarcerated between January 1, 2013, to December 31, 2020.

“Our decision to eliminate this debt reflects our understanding of the stress and financial burden of incarceration,” said Clayton through a release.

“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.”

The State Correctional Facility Reimbursement Act gives the Sheriff’s Office the right to recover monies that community members owe resulting from their incarnation. WCSO has not aggressively pursued payment of debts in the past, according to the release, which acknowledged that debt adds to stress already experienced by individuals.

By removing this debt, individuals are in a better position to meet their basic needs and will not shy away from medical assistance, which could later result in higher costs under emergency circumstances, according to the release.

Currently, if an individual has debt and is given a deposit, the amount can be seized and allocated towards their debt instead of the individual, says the release. This often acts as a barrier for reunification and for families. The removal of debt means that family members may be more inclined to give deposits to their family members that can be used during incarceration.

The sum of $509,888 was identified after a review of the jail debt owed since 2013.

Here’s how that debt breaks down:

  • Booking Fees: 17,198 individuals: $291,318.52
  • Barber: 743 individuals: $21,729.68
  • Copies: 26 individuals: $66.95
  • Dentist: 311 individuals: $4,633.06
  • Doctor: 998 individuals: $17,398.67
  • Indigent: 2,902 individuals: $73,560.46
  • Medical slips: 4,583 individuals: $64,867.18
  • Nurse visits: 1,622 individuals: $10,718.97
  • Intake kits: 3,231 individuals: $25,594.51

View the full release here.

In 2018, WCSO began to take steps in reducing some costs associated with incarceration when it negotiated the reduction in calling fees and the elimination of connection fees.

In 2019, it increased the amount of money an indigent incarcerated individual was allowed from $3 per week to $5 per week and expanded what items that money could buy. Individuals are considered indigent when they do not have the means to purchase supplies.


About the Author:

Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.