Legal financial obligations rack up jail costs

TRI-CITIES - Outstanding bills are bringing in millions -- while also draining the resources of our jails. When people can't pay their court costs, they could end up behind bars.

And that costs *you money to keep them there. KEPR dug into these legal financial obligations to see if it's worth locking people up -- in tonight's big story.

You don't pay up - and you pay the consequences.

"Some of these folks are slow learners," said Franklin County Superior Court Judge Robert G. Swisher.

Judge Robert Swisher has sentenced many people to jail in Franklin County for failing to pay their legal financial obligations -- known as LFO's. This can mean 60 days in jail for *each violation.

"It's not uncommon for some of these folks to go to jail several times," added Judge Swisher.

The county clerk's offices took over collections in 2006.
Back then, it cost the Franklin County Jail about $200,000 to house people who didn't pay up. That's if another agency was contracting with them.

Last year -- that cost rose to more than half-a-million dollars.

Reporter: "I guess, what's the benefit to taxpayers? Is there a net benefit overall?
Judge: "you know, I think there is a net benefit. I dont' have the numbers but I'm fairly sure the county collects more than they incur for housing the LFO inmates.

Those numbers show it cost Franklin County taxpayers about half-a-million dollars to house offenders. But more than double that was brought in by the clerk's officer for people owing legal financial obligations.

Jailers think the penalty is effective -- despite the added burden to their budgets.

"It's awesome. It's great that these people are being called to task," said Franklin County Corrections Captain Richard Long.

And that task is an overall benefit to taxpayers -- holding people accountable for what they owe -- and locking them up when they don't pay.

The Franklin County Clerk's Office added one-and a half positions to handle LFO cases last year. In Benton County -- six people manage LFO's exclusively -- who collected a projected $3,000,000 last year alone.