Lawsuit Claims Jail Fees Illegal

CLEVELAND (AP) - Seven men who had to pay $50 to stay in jail claim the practice is unconstitutional and have sued Cuyahoga County officials.

Their lawsuit in U.S. District Court claims that their civil rights were violated because they were forced to pay even if they were later found innocent.

"It's just not fair. They haven't been convicted yet, and they are still charged $50 to get out," said their lawyer, William Summers.

The suit alleges that those jailed must pay IntelliTech Corp., a Youngstown agency that contracts with the county to collect the fees. It collects "pay-to-stay" funds from about 30 counties in Ohio.

"This is constitutional, and it has been around since 1996 when the legislature passed it," said John Jacobs, the president of IntelliTech. He said the company will reimburse anyone who is acquitted.

County Commissioner Tim McCormack said the intent of the contract, which began in May, is to recoup funds for the county criminal-justice system and to hold a convicted resident responsible for what he has done.

He said the county should return the money to a person who is acquitted of any charges or has had the charges dismissed.

Summers said in the suit that about 20,000 men and women are processed through the Cuyahoga County Jail each year, meaning the company could collect at least $1 million. Of that, 30 percent goes to the agency and the rest to the county, officials said.

The poor pay as much as they can, some as little as $5 a day. Under Ohio law, a county can charge as much as $60 a day for the stay.

James Koltiska of Brooklyn and six "John Does" who filed the suit, want Judge Solomon Oliver to broaden the case to include other inmates who have been forced to pay.

Koltiska appeared for an arraignment May 6 on charges of drug abuse and possession of a weapon.

He claims in the suit that a judge released him on bond, but he was forced to stay in a booking room until he came up with the money. When he couldn't, authorities asked for his credit card.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)