Aug 292014

By Tammy Gray

The sheriff’s office will now be able to collect debts incurred by inmates without the necessity of additional staff or funding, thanks to an agreement approved by the Navajo County Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

Advent Financial Systems will now be responsible for collecting the bills run up by inmates who are booked out before they have paid. The company’s Pay My Jailer program is an online service that allows the sheriff’s office to inform the company of unpaid jail debts so that the company can then collect payments from released inmates.

Chief Deputy Jim Molesa noted in a memo to the board that the jail does not have the staffing or resources to pursue these debts, so they have largely remained unpaid until now.

“Navajo County Sheriff’s Office charges inmates for certain services while incarcerated. Those inmates who do not have the funds to pay for services are not denied service; they receive services and a negative balance is applied to their account,” he noted.

This allows inmates to rack up debt to the sheriff’s office. Since no effort is made to collect the money after the inmate is released, it is typically only paid if the individual is arrested again and happens to place or receive money in their inmate account.

“Without an agreement, those with debt will remain unpaid, unless they return to custody with the finances to pay previous debt incurred,” Molesa noted in the memo.

According to Advent, the Pay My Jailer program is expected to increase collections by 30 percent to 40 percent. There is no upfront cost to the county, and fees are assessed to the inmates paying the debt, not to the sheriff’s office.

Yuma County has been using the program for about six months, and collected approximately $1,000 in unpaid debt from 2013 during the first few months. Although the amount is not large, it would not have been collected without the program.

The board unanimously approved the agreement with Advent for use of the program.

In other action Aug. 26, the board:

* Re-appointed Brian Shields to the disciplinary appeals review commission.

* Declared Sept. 10-14 Navajo County Fair Week.

* Approved extending a contract with the Arizona Department of Health Services for an additional one-year period for funding for the county’s emergency preparedness program.

* Declared the month of September National Preparedness Month.

The next regular board meeting is set for 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 9, at the county complex in Holbrook.