County jails and jail budgets may be impacted by recent Kentucky Supreme Court decision
The Kentucky Supreme Court has determined that only the sentencing court can order the payment of certain fees associated with the incarceration of a prisoner in a county jail. Prior to this decision, some jails imposed fees on inmates upon being incarcerated, prior to sentencing. You can read the full decision here.
In this case, an individual served 14 months in jail and was then cleared of all charges. During his incarceration, Clark County charged the individual for his room and board in accordance with the Clark County jail fee schedule. The individual then filed suit claiming that KRS 441.265(1) only allows sentencing courts to impose the fees listed within the statute, rather than the jail itself. The trial court and the Court of Appeals had found in favor of Clark County. The Kentucky Supreme Court overturned their decision and has remanded the case to Circuit Court.
The Kentucky Supreme Court based their decision on the plain language in KRS 441.265(1). This statute, which has been on the books for over 21 years, states in part:
A prisoner in a county jail shall be required by the sentencing court to reimburse the county for expenses incurred by reason of the prisoner’s confinement as set out in this section, except for good cause shown.
The Kentucky Supreme Court stated:
The statutory language of KRS 441.265 is clear and unambiguous on its face. Only the sentencing court is vested with the authority to order the payment of fees associated with incarceration of a prisoner in a county jail. The inclusion of “sentencing court” implies that a criminal conviction occurred since without a conviction there would be no need for a sentencing court.
So what does this mean for your county jail? That is not completely clear. KACo is in contact with the Kentucky Jailers Association as we analyze this decision. In the meantime, KACo recommends that counties consult with their county attorney and consider not charging prisoners “…for expenses incurred by reason of the prisoner’s confinement…” until those expenses are imposed by the sentencing court. Keep track of those expenses, but don’t impose them without sentencing court authorization. Remember, only those convicted will be charged a fee for their stay in your facility.
We will keep you updated on this case as its next steps unfold in Clark Circuit Court.