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York County mulls using inmate accounts for restitution

| Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, 8:42 a.m.

YORK — Officials in a central Pennsylvania county are debating whether money should be deducted from the personal accounts of prison inmates to pay money owed to victims and taxpayers.

Inmates at York County Prison, who aren't allowed to carry cash, use the accounts to buy snacks, sweatpants and other items from the commissary as well as paying for haircuts and contributing toward medical costs.

Don O'Shell, the county chief of courts, said the county should deduct a percentage from the accounts to pay court-ordered costs, fines and restitution. He said Westmoreland County Prison began doing that in mid-July and collected close to $15,000 by the end of last month.

“I just see other counties doing it. I hear all kinds of push-back from our facility. ... I know it's not impossible,” O'Shell said, according to the York Daily Record/Sunday News.

O'Shell said the prison could collect $200,000 to $300,000 a year if it deducted 20 to 30 percent, respectively, from such accounts.

The county prison also houses federal immigration detainees, but the proposed changes wouldn't affect them or work release inmates, who already have their wages garnished.

Some officials, however, expressed concern about the idea. Warden Mary Sabol said it could lead to groups being treated differently, spawning security concerns.

Acting solicitor Donald Reihart said deducting money from accounts could lead to family members not putting money into them, but county treasurer Barbara Bair disagreed.

“They'll give more,” she said. “Those family members will step up and give more, because they want Sam to have his haircut or whatever it is.”

York County Commissioner Steve Chronister said the idea would penalize families rather than inmates, and many are likely on government assistance because their provider is behind bars.

“Why don't we just have every family do a fundraiser to pay for their stay in prison?” Chronister said. “... Let's go a little further.”

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