- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2006

ATLANTA (AP) - A southern Georgia county has agreed to repay the “room and board” it charged jail inmates who were behind bars awaiting trial.

The agreement this week resolves a federal lawsuit contending Clinch County had no legal power to charge inmates $18 a day. A total of $27,000 will be returned to people who paid the fees from 2000 to 2004.

Sheriff Winston Peterson “had no authority to charge these fees, and he certainly had no authority to threaten people with jail time for failure to pay them,” said Sarah Geraghty, a lawyer for the Southern Center for Human Rights.

Miss Geraghty’s group and an Atlanta law firm filed the complaint in November 2004, arguing that fines can’t be imposed unless they are specifically authorized by Georgia law. Clinch County officials had argued the fine was the county’s way to punish criminals instead of taxpayers.

One of the plaintiffs in the suit was charged $4,608 for the eight months he spent in the jail. Before he was released on bail in June 2004, he had to agree to weekly payments of $20 until his debt was paid. He said he had paid a total of $140 before the settlement was reached.

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