LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A Louisville Metro audit report states improvement is needed for the Home Incarceration Program (HIP) fee system. According to the audit, the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections is losing out on revenue because inmates are not paying their fees.
Auditors monitored the program for a year, from October 2015 through November 2016. The report was released Friday with LMDC’s response and action plan.
In an overcrowded jail, it is cheaper for LMDC to release inmates on HIP. According to the audit, it costs $18 per day to house an HIP inmate, while it costs $69 per day to house an inmate in the jail.
The audit also claims there are an average 657 participants on HIP each month. Unless a judge waives the fees, HIP inmates are required to pay for their freedom. An HIP inmate must pay $10 up front for the ankle monitor and $6 each day for the duration of the sentence.
However, revenue from the fees has been steadily decreasing since 2014.
During the course of the year-long audit, inmates were billed more than $1.2 million in HIP fees. However, just over $200,000 was ever collected, which is only around 17 percent of the billed amount.
LMDC Assistant Director Steve Durham said there was a change in 2014 regarding enforcement that contributed to the decline. In 2014, Durham said the courts took the teeth out of enforcing fees by removing the repercussion of being returned to custody if the fee isn’t paid. Metro Corrections FOP president Tracy Dotson said as more HIP inmates realized they wouldn’t get in trouble for not paying, word spread.
“They learn the system,” said Dotson, referring to the inmates. “And as they learn the system, as it slowly dawned on them that they weren’t going to be reprimanded for not paying their fees, they stopped paying them.”
The audit recommended LMDC consider if it is more beneficial to discontinue charging fees, encourage inmates to pay the fees, create a one-time flat fee or hire a collection agency.
Durham said jail leaders agree with the findings of the audit that something needs to change. Ideally, Durham said LMDC would like to eliminate all HIP fees. He claimed it does not align with Metro Correction’s mission of care and custody of inmates. However, Durham said, a decision like that would need to be made by the city in collaboration with the courts.
In the meantime, LMDC leaders are considering changing the daily fee to a larger one-time flat fee. Durham said Metro Corrections is working with a budget analyst to see what would be an appropriate fee to offset the cost of HIP but also in line with an inmate’s capacity to pay.
In LMDC’s response to the audit, leaders stated that “people ordered to HIP are not likely to be able to pay the fee as it currently stands.” Durham said the majority of inmates assigned to HIP are of low economic status, and he would prefer the money they are required to pay for daily fees go to child support, restitution, etc.
Dotson said the loss in revenue from fees is part of a bigger public safety issue. He said following up with hundreds of inmates each month with fewer than a dozen HIP officers per shift is next to impossible. And LMDC leaders, in part, agree by responding to the audit: “HIP staff does not have motivation to do what is unenforceable due to the overburdened process.”
“Take that quote and apply it to our murder rate," Dotson responded. "If that was the case of the police, think of the outrage with that. You know what, no one is going to do anything with it if we catch these murdered, so we don’t care. That’s a big, bold statement. So, my position on that is HIP needs to do its job. HIP is boots on the ground, public safety.”
Instead, Dotson said HIP officers are buried in manual paperwork, leaving maybe two officers each shift to check up face-to-face with HIP inmates.
“If you are an HIP officer, you should come in and hit the clock and hit the street," Dotson said. "Then you don’t see that office again until your shift is over. That’s what we should be doing. That’s what we’re not doing.”
The audit also reviewed the system used to track fees and the problems that arise with doing it manually. Metro Corrections is working with the HIP monitoring vendor to find a way to make the process streamlined and digital, to eliminate human error.
To read through the other audit reviews and LMDC action plans regarding inventory and fairness, see below:
Copyright 2017 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.