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ACLU of Indiana calling Clinton County’s new ordinance ‘bad policy’

FRANKFORT, Ind. — Convicted inmates in Clinton County will soon be charged while they stay in jail.

Sheriff Rich Kelly proposed the idea, and county commissioners just passed an ordinance to make it happen, but not everyone is so happy with Clinton County’s decision to charge guilty inmates $30 per day in jail.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana is calling the county’s new ordinance “bad policy.”

Clinton County Commissioner Joshua Uitts says the new county ordinance of charging inmates $30 a day for the stay is acting within state law.

"According to Indiana code, this is an option we have to use to help recoup costs that we have not been doing in the past, so yeah, it was prescribed in state statue," Commissioner Uitts said.

"Just because it is legal doesn’t mean it’s right. Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s good policy," ACLU Indiana's Executive Director Jane Henegar said.

Henegar doesn’t approve of the county’s new policy.

"There are many ways that we can help individuals restart their lives. Burdening them with excessive and unnecessary debt to solve a problem of our own making, not the individual's, but our making, that seems cruel and just plain bad policy," Henegar said.

Commissioner Uitts says this new policy would cover some of the costs of maintaining the jail, and inmates would only start to pay after their first 72 hours in jail.

"Counties are cash strapped, there’s no doubt about it, but there are ways they can advocate to the state for more resources," Henegar said.

Henegar says people incarcerated already have challenges when they’re released from jail. Potentially racking up debt, she says, would be an even bigger burden.

However, Sheriff Kelly says debt is a responsibility every adult has.

"Yes, we all have debt. If we are responsible, we take on debt while we have employment, and we have the ability to repay those debts. We’re talking about incarcerating people and taking away their ability to earn a wage and yet sadly with a debt," Henegar said.

Sheriff Kelly says this new policy would only charge people who make more than twice the federal poverty level.

"Twice the national poverty level is still pretty low-income, and again, if you already have obligations that you are occurring while you’re incarcerated; child support, rent, etc., then you pile this on top, then already low-income can get overwhelmed," Henegar said.

"Everyone is welcomed to their own opinion. This is something that’s been prescribed in state statute that it’s absolutely legal to do. All we did was enact a tool that the state legislature has given us to recoup costs," Commissioner Uitts said.

The ACLU says they will be taking a deeper look into what the law states regarding charging inmates a fee.

Vanderburgh County says they also charge their inmates but only with a onetime booking fee. If someone is convicted of a crime, they would pay $50.

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