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Kentucky Jails’ Seizure of Funds for Booking, Room and Board Fees Upheld

Kentucky Jails’ Seizure of Funds for Booking, Room and Board Fees Upheld

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that the seizure of jail prisoners’ canteen funds for booking and room and board fees does not violate due process.

When Campbell County and Kenton County (Kentucky) detain individuals in their jails, any money the detainee possesses is deposited into a canteen account. People in the community may also deposit money into a detainee’s account. The funds can be used for commissary purchases.

Campbell County automatically removes a $30 fee from jail canteen accounts to cover booking and arraignment costs. Kenton County does not charge the $30 booking fee until the prisoner is released. Both counties charge room and board – $20 per day in Campbell County and $5 per day in Kenton County.

“Campbell County withholds up to one quarter of any monetary gifts to the inmate to cover these fees as well as up to a quarter of any funds remaining in an inmate’s canteen account at the end of each day,” the Court observed. “Kenton County recovers per diem fees by withholding up to one half of any funds given to an inmate as well as up to one half of any funds remaining in an inmate’s canteen account at the end of the week.”

Several detainees and freeworld people who sent them money that was taken by the counties filed suit in federal court, asserting that seizure of the funds without a pre-deprivation hearing violated the Due Process Clause. The district court consolidated the actions and granted summary judgment to the defendants.

The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Applying the balancing test of Matthews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976), the appellate court rejected the detainees’ due process claims. While acknowledging a property interest in the canteen account funds, the Court of Appeals found that interest was insignificant, because the amount subject to seizure was small.
“The withholding of funds involves elementary accounting that has little risk of error and is nondiscretionary.”

Hence, the Sixth Circuit determined that the risk of erroneous deprivation was minor and the potential benefit of other safeguards – including a pre-deprivation hearing – were few. “It is not even clear what the inmates hope to accomplish with a pre-deprivation hearing,” the Court stated. Finally, the appeals court determined that “the government’s interests – sharing the costs of incarceration and furthering offender accountability – are substantial, and indeed plaintiffs do not challenge them.”

The Court also rejected the non-imprisoned plaintiffs’ due process claims. “While these individuals undoubtedly once had an interest in this money, they voluntarily relinquished that interest when they gave it to their inmate relatives,” the appellate court found. Having relinquished their property interest they could not state a valid due process claim.

Finally, the Court of Appeals rejected the claim that the jail canteen accounting policies violated the First Amendment by curbing free speech. “Yes, a family member’s monetary gift would make the inmate’s subsequent phone calls ‘free speech’ if that is how he chose to spend the money,” the Court explained. “But that is not exactly what the framers had in mind … the amendment does not protect any conduct that at some point might have a connection to speech….” The plaintiffs’ First Amendment claim, “if accepted, would do more to trivialize, than to promote, our time-honored First Amendment traditions.” See: Sickles v. Campbell, 501 F.3d 726 (6th Cir. 2007).

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Related legal case

Sickles v. Campbell