FOX 11 Investigates: Inmates not asked to pay jail costs in Outagamie Co.

File photo of a jail cell.

APPLETON - Wisconsin law allows counties to charge inmates, once sentenced, the full cost of locking them up in the county jail.

In Brown County, the cost is figured to be $52.44 a day for each inmate. In Outagamie County, the cost runs $60.52 a day for each inmate. That amount includes the cost to run the facility, food, everything.

For counties like Brown and Outagamie, the cost runs into the millions of dollars a year.

State Rep. Chad Weininger (R-Allouez) supported a measure put into law this year to give counties more time to get their money from former inmates.

"Part of our job is to protect the taxpayer dollars," said Weininger. "And that's really what we're doing. The folks that committed the crime should have some sense of obligation to pay for it."

And yet no county in the state charges the actual cost to house an inmate, In Outagamie County - where the daily lockup costs $60.52 for each prisoner - the county charges inmates nothing.

Capt. Dave Kiesner is in charge of the Outagamie County Jail.

"The approach is sort of a philosophical approach and that is the fact an offender who is locked up is already, lack of a better word, a burden to his family," said Kiesner. "To charge them an additional fee is a fee not only to the offender but its also to the family."

Instead, that burden is placed on innocent taxpayers to pay the bill.

Do the math. With 300 inmates at $60 a day for 365 days a year, the cost comes to more than $6.5 million.

FOX 11 Investigates reporter Mark Leland asked Kiesner about what he might say to taxpayers left to pay the full bill, without the county even trying to collect something from inmates.

Kiesner said it goes back to the county's philosophical approach. That approach includes educational programs to help inmates turn their lives around so they don't end up back in jail. The belief is weighing them down with a bill from jail would add to their struggles.

Brown County charges each inmate $20 of the total $52.44 daily cost.

Brown County sheriff's officials are also working to turn inmates' lives around, and say the full amount could add to their hardship.

"If we can do something to change their choices they make before they get here that's a better way to recoup money," said Lt. Phil Steffen with the Brown County Jail.