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WASHTENAW COUNTY, Mich. – In a bid to alleviate financial stress, boost inmate morale and combat recidivism, one Michigan sheriff’s office has forgiven more than half a million dollars in outstanding prisoner debts accrued during an eight-year period.

Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton said in a news release that the discretionary action was taken to end an “absurd cycle” that often hamstrings former prisoners long after sentences have been served.

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“Our decision to eliminate this debt reflects our understanding of the stress and financial burden of incarceration,” Clayton stated, calling the “burden” of jail debt an “added negative factor that can undermine” former prisoners’ attempts at reintegration while feeding “the cycle of incarceration.”

An internal review of the county jail’s practices revealed that a total of 31,614 inmates amassed in-house debts totaling of $509,888 between Jan. 2, 2013, and Dec. 31, 2020, WXYZ reported.

“We also know that incarceration can seriously compromise a person’s ability to generate income, leading to even more debt. It’s this absurd cycle, along with reincarceration, that we are focused on,” Clayton stated.

According to The Detroit News, Michigan’s Correctional Facility Reimbursement Act allows county sheriffs to recover any debt incurred by inmates during incarceration.

Although all inmates held more than 24 hours receive a set of free items intended to meet their basic needs, additional supplies and services – such as dental visits, obtaining copies of paperwork and haircuts – are purchased through the commissary, and inmates unable to afford such services are allowed them on credit, WXYZ reported.

Meanwhile, if an inmate’s family member deposits money into a commissary account, the funds are seized and applied toward the prisoner’s debt before new purchases can be made, The Detroit News reported.

“This discourages families from financially supporting their incarcerated loved ones and, in some cases, is a barrier to family involvement and reunification,” the news release stated.

According to The Detroit News, behavior among inmates in the Washtenaw County jail has improved and they are less likely to avoid seeking basic medical and dental care since the debts were forgiven. The newspaper offered the following breakdown of the more than half a million dollars in charges forgiven by the sheriff’s office:

Booking fees: 17,198 inmates totaling $291,318

Indigent inmate debt: 2,902 individuals totaling $73,560

Medical slips: 4,583 inmates totaling $64,867

Intake kits (items inmates receive above and beyond standard-issue items) @ $3.30 for hygiene kits and $2.30 for stationery kits: 3,231 inmates totaling $25,594

Barber @ $15 per visit: 17,198 inmates totaling $21,729

Doctor* @ $10 per scheduled visit: 998 inmates totaling $17,398

Nurse @ $3 per visit: 1,622 inmates totaling $10,718

Dentist* @ $10 per scheduled visit: 311 inmates totaling $4,633

Copies of paperwork @ 10 cents per copy: 26 inmates totaling $66

* Emergency care is provided separately.