Getting arrested anywhere is expensive. Defendants often have to deal with court costs, legal fees, restitution and fines. In Nashville, it can be even costlier.
But that could change today, after Metro Council members vote to do away with the city’s “jail fee” for misdemeanor arrests — the $44 billed to defendants for every day they sit in a Metro jail waiting to see a judge.
Councilman Freddie O’Connell says the problem with the fee is it’s application. It mostly affects those who can least afford it — people who don’t have the funds to bond out of jail.
O’Connell says he believes the city “should not be in the business of further financially punishing people because they can’t afford bail.” Adding that many of the affected parties are detained for petty or non-violent crimes.
“It effectively doubles the punishment,” says O’Connell. While two people may be charged with the same offense, the amount of time they spend behind bars before they go to trial depends on whether they can afford to buy their freedom.
The longer they have to wait, the bigger the bill.
That’s why O’Connell introduced a resolution in February to stop the city from levying the fees altogether.
The councilman says so far he hasn’t encountered much opposition, even while Mayor Megan Barry’s administration has asked departments to tighten their spending. On Monday afternoon, the resolution passed out of the Budget and Finance committee with unanimous support. The proposal is co-sponsored by Council members Colby Sledge, Brett Withers, Russ Pelley, Mina Johnson and Scott Davis.
Even Davidson County Sheriff, Daron Hall says he’s behind it. Hall has long been bothered by the term “jail fee”, which implies the money goes to the jailer or is used to cover the costs of housing inmates.
“It is misleading,” says Hall. “The jail fees don’t ever appear or show up in the sheriff’s office. We don’t receive any of those.”
Hall says costs for housing defendants are paid out of his agency’s annual budget, while the “jail fees” are actually deposited to Metro’s general fund.
Hall says even if the fees could be re-routed to his agency in full, he’d still like to see them be done away with. He adds that he doesn’t need more money. What he’d prefer is the city find better ways to deal with defendants who suffer from mental illness rather than locking them up and making them pay.
But while Nashville has levied millions of dollars in incarceration fees, in recent years, less than 20 percent has actually been collected, according to O’Connell. Judges have also taken to waiving the fees for some low-income defendants.
The councilman says the lost revenue shouldn’t have much of an effect on the city’s budget — but it could make a big impact in the life of its citizens.