Samantha Gilstrap
KU Statehouse Wire Service
Legislators are considering a statute that would change the calculation for the cost of keeping civil prisoners in jail. House Bill 2097 was introduced Jan. 29 and sent to the Committee on Judiciary. The bill has not been voted on and awaits further interpretation.
Currently, the cost to hold a civil prisoner in county jail in Kansas is $1.50 a day which is not enough to maintain the needs of what it takes to hold the prisoner. Civil prisoners are those who are imprisoned for an offense that is not considered a crime; often they don’t pay bills, or break contracts and are held in contempt of the court. They have different rights inside the county jail than their cohorts, the same rights as prisoners awaiting trial, including not having to mix with other prisoners if they so desire.
The average sentence for civil prisoners depends on the amount of money they owe, in cases where the sum is very large and the prisoner is unable to pay it, they can be kept in jail for extended periods of time. Depending on the severity of the issue, civil prisoners can be released early if imprisonment is over two days and they assaulted a police officer, a parent or guardian steps in to be committed in default for the fine or they declare insanity as a reason they cannot pay.
The cost of keeping a civil prisoner in county jail has not been updated since 1963. Other inmate costs have fluctuated with the times. The cost to hold them in Kansas county jails is about $67.12 per day as compared to civil prisoners at $1.50 per day.
Civil prisoners can often appeal their cases to get out of going to jail at all. Their rarity could explain why the cost of holding them hasn’t been addressed in over more than a half-century. HB 2097 proposes to raise the amount being charged to that of the other prisoners in county jail. Ed Klumpp, liaison to the Kansas Sheriffs’ Association (KAC), says this would allow counties to receive enough to afford these civil prisoners without going into their own pockets.
The Kansas Association of Counties says that by charging civil prisoners such a low amount means that the county where the prisoner is being held is responsible for picking up the bill. With new prisoners costing the state about $28.4 million extra, there isn’t room to spare.
The Sheriffs’ Association says “money is being taken out of several counties’ budgets to afford this and that is unfair because the county jail is not a money-making enterprise.” This takes away from what the jail can do to maintain the facilities, provide clothing, food and workers’ salaries.
There was no disagreement over the bill. Some attendees say they know taxpayers will be upset because the rising cost of the civil prisoners, as well as the rising number of prisoners in the Kansas Department of Corrections, will raise taxes. On Feb. 14, the Committee on Judiciary recommended the bill be passed. However, no action has been taken since.
Samantha Gilstrap is a University of Kansas senior from Charlotte, North Carolina majoring in journalism.