In June, Dunn County became one of the only counties in the Chippewa Valley metropolitan area to approve a booking fee for some inmates of the Dunn County Jail.

County officials say the measure is meant to recoup some of the costs of operating the jail.

Eau Claire, Chippewa and Pepin counties do not charge inmates to be booked into jails.

Trempealeau County used to charge anyone booked, but now instead charges a $35 setup fee, only to people entering the jail to serve a sentence. Rusk County “may charge a ($20) fee to recoup the costs associated with booking a person sentenced to the jail,” according to its website.

The Eau Claire County Jail has “loosely” considered a booking fee in the past, but isn’t pursuing one, said Dan Bresina, captain of the county’s security services division.

“We have a ton of pre-trial folks coming in and out of our facility. The revenue sources wouldn’t be tremendous, and we just don’t have a ton of office support staff trying to figure out if folks don’t pay,” Bresina said.

A new proposal

The first version of the Dunn County fee would have charged $25 at the time of booking.

If someone booked into the jail was later cleared of criminal charges, the sheriff’s office would refund the $25.

The board eventually approved a slightly different booking fee: It would only be charged if inmates were convicted of the crime they were booked for — and the fee would be collected after conviction.

Supervisor Michael Rogers of Menomonie proposed the change, saying he believed people who haven’t been found guilty shouldn’t be charged a fee.

“I just have an issue with assuming people are guilty before they’ve had due process,” Rogers said. “I don’t believe it should be the responsibility of that individual, who was never found guilty, to have to go through the steps to get the money back.”

Dunn County Sheriff Kevin Bygd said he doesn’t agree with criticism that charging a booking fee upfront is unfair.

“There (are) very few people that come to jail that aren’t guilty of a crime,” he said. “Whether they’re found guilty through the courts, come up with a deferred prosecution agreement or we arrest them on one case and it’s written in on another case.”

Revenue source

The jail books roughly 2,000 people yearly, Bygd said. If the county collected the fee from everyone booked, the fee would bring in $50,000.

The county was originally anticipating around $25,000 in revenue from the measure, Bygd said, but the changed ordinance could mean less than that.

County manager Paul Miller said the fee is meant to recoup sheriff’s office costs, not fix overall county budget strain.

However, county-funded programs could be facing cuts in 2020, Miller has told the County Board in 2019.

“There are costs to the county personnel ... that aren’t always generated by the county itself,” Miller said. “Will it help our bottom line? One certainly hopes, but it’s not the motivation entirely for the fee changes.”

The fee was meant to shoulder some of those costs, helping the taxpayers, Bygd said.

“It was an attempt to create some revenue from the people who get in trouble and come to our jail,” Bygd said.

But charging the fee after a conviction means collecting the money will be harder, and the county won’t see the money for much longer, Bygd said.

“It’s going to be very difficult for us to recoup that money,” Bygd said. “It’ll put the burden of collecting the money on the Clerk of Courts office instead of the sheriff’s office … it’ll have to be ordered through a judge.”

The sheriff’s office plans to begin collecting the new booking fee “as soon as we can,” Bygd said.

The sheriff’s office won’t hold someone if they can’t pay the booking fee, but the county may try to recover the money by intercepting tax refunds, suspending drivers’ licenses or restricting probation until the fee is paid, Bygd said.

The county won’t charge extra if the $25 is paid late.

In June the County Board also approved two other fees: a $50 warrant fee for anyone served a warrant by the sheriff’s office and a $10 fee for people posting a bond on a charge from an agency outside Dunn County.

Regional interest

County jail booking fees have drawn scrutiny in Minnesota. The Supreme Court declined in 2017 to hear a case on Ramsey County booking fees.

Also in 2017, Ramsey County eliminated a $25 county jail booking fee, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

It’s up to individual Wisconsin counties whether or not to charge a booking fee or other jail fees, according to state statute.

Eau Claire, Chippewa and Dunn counties don’t charge a daily rate to prisoners, except to those on Huber work release — $17 per day for Chippewa County inmates, $16 for Dunn County.

Dr. Carrie Acklin, a professor of criminal justice and rehabilitation at UW-Stout, said there will be people able to easily pay the $25 booking fee, and people who are homeless or can’t afford to pay.

“For somebody who might be a first-time offender, who’s never been to jail before, maybe they have a job or are working part-time, I don’t think $25 is really that much” Acklin said. “But it does kind of create an additional barrier that people have to worry about it, because going to jail is stressful enough.”

But keeping just one person in jail or prison for a year is “extraordinarily” expensive for municipalities, Acklin noted.

“With state budget cuts and a lack of resources, in order for a program to survive and do it effectively, you do need money,” she said. “This is one way to generate that revenue.”