Alachua County Commission votes to eliminate discretionary jail fees

Commissioner Mary Alford asks questions during the May 23 Alachua County Commission meeting | From meeting broadcast


GAINESVILLE, Fla. – During the evening portion of the May 23 Alachua County Commission meeting, the board took the next step toward a new jail phone contract and eliminated discretionary jail fees.

Scope of services for jail phone contract

Kevin Smith, director of the County’s IT Department, said jail phone calls are now being billed at 12 cents per minute (the fee required by Securus) instead of 21 cents, and free phone calls will begin October 1. The County is working on an RFP for phone services, with the goal of having a signed contract by October. However, Smith said that if Securus is not selected, there is a buy-out of $175,000 because the County signed a five-year contract with Securus in 2020. 

The scope of services for the RFP requires the contractor to provide the option of deploying free basic community tablets; the contractor will also be able to offer personal rental tablets with premium content. It also requires a video visitation call system. The pricing for phone calls can be either on a per-minute basis, a fixed monthly cost based on the average daily inmate population, or an annual yearly cost as a lump sum.

Chair Anna Prizzia pointed out that there is likely to be a significant lead time for any new contractor to get all the equipment ready, and during that time, the buy-out will continue to decrease.

Discretionary jail fees

The board then discussed discretionary jail fees, which average about $195,000 in revenue per year for the County to offset jail costs; other fees are set by statute, so the County cannot unilaterally change them. Ron Akins, Administrative Support Manager for Court Services, said that although there is a long list of fees, only the subsistence fee and clinic copayment are currently collected.

Commissioner Mary Alford made a motion to no longer collect the subsistence fee, which offset $156,000 in jail costs in FY22, and eliminate all the fees that are not being collected. Prizzia said, “That’s $156,000 out of the pockets of poor people,” and Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler added, “And a lot of these people haven’t even been charged yet, right?”

Cornell said he didn’t have a problem eliminating all the discretionary fees “if, in fact, that’s a best practice–it seems like $4 a day is not a lot, but maybe it is.” Wheeler said, “Especially if you’ve not been charged.”

Alford changed her motion to eliminate all the discretionary fees, and Wheeler seconded the motion. 

Alford commented that many jails charge a nominal fee for clinic visits “to keep frivolous clinic visits from happening, so it’s one of the things that I did think about, but on the other hand, I also know that there are people that don’t go to the clinic because they’re worried about paying it. I know $5 doesn’t sound like a lot… but it also adds up very quickly, for somebody unemployed.”

Prizzia said that although the County doesn’t send past-due accounts to collections, they could, and “it ends up being something that follows you around.”

Commissioner Chuck Chestnut said the amount the fees generate is “not a lot of money” compared to the $42 million jail budget. “It doesn’t help,” he added.

A woman named Kimber from Florida Prisoner Solidarity said during public comment, “The best practice would be to remove all fees… The people that are left behind in jail after First Appearance are the poorest, the people that can’t afford bond, so why are you charging even more?” She said the County should work with the State to have no monetary bond at all. Regarding people going to the clinic “just to get out of their cell, which, like, makes sense–it’s a very small outlier, probably, and I wouldn’t put in best practice to create policies on small outliers… I think you have to be really cautious on how you set policy that gets enforced by guards and COs, and how they like to–it’s a power manipulative move that they can use to different intentions than you all have.”

Cornell asked Kimber whether there are other jails that don’t charge a subsistence fee, and she responded, “I don’t care if there’s other jails that don’t charge it. It’s best practice to not charge it… The only people sitting in the jail are the poorest of the poor, that’s my point.”

Chestnut said in his experience, families can’t afford the “outrageous” transportation and deputy fees to go to funerals; however, Akins said that fee has not been collected in recent years.

The motion passed unanimously. 

Research on best practices

County Attorney Sylvia Torres passed commissioners a resolution with a fee schedule amendment, and Cornell responded with a motion to ask staff to bring back “best practices of other counties, as far as what they are doing, specifically Miami-Dade, to reduce fees,” ask staff “to contact the Sheriff to communicate that we’ve eliminated the discretionary fees tonight and ask that he get back to us on the status of the commissary fees,” and adopt the resolution that Torres handed out, which was not included in the agenda backup. Wheeler seconded the motion.

Prizzia said the Sheriff had been scheduled to be at the meeting but “had something come up,” but she had asked him to come back on June 13 to address jail personnel and commissary fees. She said Major Dorian Keith, Director of the Jail, had said the jail already provides soap and a kit to every inmate with “basic self-care supplies” including soap, toothbrush, and toothpaste. 

Prizzia asked Cornell whether he also wanted information about fees like Court Services fees, and he confirmed that he did. 

Alford suggested an addition to the motion, asking staff to find out if other counties have Citizen Oversight Boards for their jails “because I feel like if we were to have a Citizen Oversight Board, we could get the real information about what is happening in the jail.” Cornell agreed to add that to the motion but said he just wanted the information and didn’t necessarily want an oversight board. He said the board should be careful about “the signals we send with our words” because the Sheriff could decide to give the jail back to the County, “and I don’t want the jail back.”

During public comment, Tamara Robbins said that when Sheriff Clovis Watson says, “I’m here to do the will of the board,” that’s a “distraction.” She said he’s an elected official who does not answer to the County Commission, “so when he does this… tell him to bring specific information about… how many kits is he distributing every day? How often does an inmate get them? How big are they? How long do they last?… When you give Sheriff Watson a lot of latitude, he will take it, beyond… You’ve got to be very specific.”

Prizzia added to the motion a request for a community engagement component to the Court Services development item that staff is working on, and Cornell agreed.

Alford said the Sheriff had been in office for two years, “and I think I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve seen him in a meeting… There’s only so many chances he gets, in my opinion. And if we’re not getting the information from the Sheriff that we ask for in a timely way and getting correct information about what’s being distributed to inmates and whether or not they have access to medical care or access to attend a funeral if they would like to, or all the other things that we see no fees collected for, maybe because they’re not getting those services…,” then an advisory board would be a way to get that information. Cornell and Alford agreed that should be a policy discussion. Prizzia said the County Commission is the actual oversight board and that the Sheriff is a “service provider” who has a contract with the County to run the jail. Cornell removed the oversight board from his motion. 

The motion passed unanimously. 

  • Go figure. Just like the tree humpin’, gun hatin’, creek suckin’ liberals to turn a facility that’s supposed to be a punishment for crimes against property or persons into a country club.
    Guess there waiting for some of their fellow elitists to be incarcerated or maybe future planning for their own.

  • Hear that??? It’s the sound of the Men Working on The Chain Gang….

  • Doesn’t this new push to cover inmates costs in jail feel a little off to you? It should!
    I hope most can see that this is nothing more than a pharmaceutical industry PR stunt to increase usage of their products. Take a look at the discretionary fees that are actually collected…they’re dominated by doc appts and pharmaceuticals. Industry & big govt look at that stream of revenue for the jail/county as unnecessary red tape that slows the growth. This is not a local issue by any means. Damn near all (weak) governments are beholden to Big Daddy Pharma…also known as creeping socialized medical care. So you’ll pay for that inmates pills and shut up about it if they have their way.

    • If they need medicine it should be a suppository…a really large one.

    • If they plan to sterilize them then let Big Pharma have a go at it.

  • Jail seems pretty nice with food, shelter, warmth, and free phone calls.

  • Can we just find out if the Jail is at capacity yet? Covid is over. Keep repeat offenders off the streets. Or we the people will revolt at the ballot box, and juries will take over.

  • Folks who have been found guilty and sentenced should pay.
    But, there are cases where a person is found innocent, or charges dropped. What should stop is visitation for minors at the jail. These habitual offenders only care about others when incarcerated. It becomes the “Norm” to go visit the family at jail, like going to church on Sunday.

  • So if a person is found innocent, they don’t pay the fees. The convicted criminals can go pick up the litter around the county. Maybe they can learn how to use a shovel and patch some potholes! Oh wait, would that be considered paying back their debt to society, or slave labor? I guess the answer would depend on whether it came from a conservative or a progressive! We certainly cannot agree on how to recover taxpayers’ money spent on coddling criminals!

    With their questions to her, BOCC must consider the “woman named Kimber” as an expert on prison best practice! “Kimber” is a member of the organization (Florida Prison Solidarity) that demanded their signs calling to “Abolish the Police”, “Abolish Prisons”, “Next Step, We Burn It Down”, “Abolish GPD”, and a few more bed sheets, were art!

    Here is the link to their handiwork: https://www.flprisonersolidarity.org/2023/03/30/in-response-to-the-censorship-of-burn-it-down-communications-of-resistance/

    According to lifetime local politician Chestnut, “the amount the fees generate is “not a lot of money.” Personally, $156K is a lot to me! Chestnut is more concerned the criminals cannot afford to pay the “outrageous” transportation and deputy fees associated with attending funerals! Hmmm, wonder why Chestnut would want to make sure the crooks can get to funerals? Go figure!

  • Sure, make everything free, free, free. Then they’ll increase our property taxes to cover all of this free, including a lot more poor people than those in jail.

  • “A woman named Kimber from Florida Prisoner Solidarity said…”
    I Googled that and it says right on the homepage of FPS that their stated goal is “organizing alongside prisoners to end all forms of incarceration”.

    Why are county commissioners listening to some ultra-left radicals that want to abolish all jails and prisons?!

    Why are the useless Alachua County Commissioners giving up $156,000 in revenue FROM CRIMINALS? Calling your mama and gang members every day from jail is not a Constitutional right. Not to mention they are eagerly trying to double that by changing vendors for no sane reason.

    Somehow it’s wrong to take $156k from the pockets of “poor people”, but it’s okay to take that money from us, the taxpayers and victims of these criminals. Absolutely disgusting.

    • We have many poor people in our community who hold down two or three jobs and have never seen the inside of a police car. Why is the commission taking hard earned money from these citizens to provide free stuff for criminals and revolving door vagrants?

      • That’s what they do. They take and keep taking. They like giving and spending other people’s money. It gets their rocks off and then they laugh at the idiots who voted for them.

        Liberals are so gullible.

    • “Why are county commissioners listening to some ultra-left radicals that want to abolish all jails and prisons?!”

      Because the commissioners are ultra-left wing radicals (i.e., regressives). These people (i.e., regressives) are trying to fundamentally change our system of government. And it’s not limited to our local government. This is what they believe and this is what America will become if we don’t stop them (legally, that is). I could not agree with you more- it is absolutley disgusting.

  • Silly commission, these fees were allowed and set by the Florida Legislature so that the costs to the taxpayers are offset. Now, they are all free, and the taxpayers are going to pay…wiat and see how the numbers of sick call visits go up. This whole scenario is just plain wrong, the commission forgot that the drug dealers have money (off the books), and so do most others. They also forgot that if someone was/is indegent, they recieved the same level of care and access to materials to include letter writing materials, soap and toothpaste. Now jails are nothing more than an extension of welfare…I guarantee you will see in increase in population as a result, this happened before and will happen again. Been there and done that….SMDH

  • The great EXPERIMENT continues on how screwed up we can make the criminal justice system. The victims of these criminals booked in and sentenced to serve at the jail get to keep being victimized by having to pay higher taxes. All Chestnut seemed concerned with is how taxpayers will pay for funeral expenses. It is obvious that Colvis doesn’t care about the jail or what is going on since he rarely attends commission meetings. He always seems to have something going on or come up. He probably can’t handle any more embarrassment after losing his unjust cause in court. This commission is trying to turn this county into New York City or some other blue state hell hole. STAY FROSTY my friends. I am also curious why no local media attention or story for the Gainesville man who was arrested in Maryland after trying to enter the CIA headquarters and showed up at school with a stash of weapons in his vehicle.

  • Chukkee, Macho , and the rest of the Commsioners think so much of the taxpayers money ? How about we split up that $156,000 equally and take it out of their salary?

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