Starting last summer, Colorado allowed counties to collect jail booking fees up to $30 to offset costs and raise money for mental-health treatment programs. The fees will not be paid by the mentally ill or indigent; they will be collected from those who can and should pay, said George Epp of the Colorado Sheriffs Association. “The money is going to come from the drunk drivers and wife beaters and the simple assaults and shoplifters, and those people that have money when they’re booked,” he said.
State officials say the fees will generate funds for dealing with the growing burden of inmates who suffer from mental illness. “Jails have become like mental hospitals,” Epp said. Critics say the booking fee has its own injustices, calling it a “tax” predominantly on the poor. They say the fee hits offenders who are already facing mounting court costs, penalties, and other legal fees. “Overall, I think it’s unfair,” said Gus Guarino of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar. “The bottom line is that people in jail are people who are too poor to bond out. We’re picking on the group who can least afford it and who would suffer most under it.” About a dozen counties statewide assess a booking fee, and others are considering it.