vending_machine_web.jpgDURANGO, Colo. (AP) _ A tank of gas: $37. A night at the bars: $80. Bail for drunken driving: $750. Not every trip to jail is planned. For those wild nights, there's a kiosk at the La Plata County jail where jailbirds can swipe a card and go free.

“It's just giving people a few more options,'' said Capt. Michael Slade with the Sheriff's Office. “I don't know why it is, but people just don't want to enjoy our hospitality if they can avoid it.''

It used to be that prisoners had two options for posting bail: They could call a bail bondsman or arrange for a friend or family member to bring cash or a certified check to the jail.

Now prisoners can use a credit card or debit card to post bail.

People often have a credit or debit card when they are arrested, said Sgt. Holley Ezzell with the Sheriff's Office.

“We are seeing an increase in inmates coming in and using a credit card to bond themselves out,'' Ezzell said.

The kiosk was installed in August to relieve jail deputies from having to deal with large sums of money and allow them to focus more on inmates, Slade said.

Some bails cost $5,000 or more, which is a lot of cash to have on hand. And the more cash in hand, the greater the risk of it being lost or miscounted, Slade said.

Before installing the kiosks, deputies had to make bank runs twice a week. Now they go to the bank once every other week.

The kiosk also takes cash. It can hold up to 1,200 bills and accepts all denominations from $1 to $100 bills. It is owned by EZ Card & Kiosk LLC, which empties the machine twice a week.

The company did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Kiosk customers are charged a $10 service fee plus 7 percent of the bail amount. If the bail is more than $2,000, the $10 fee is waived.

By comparison, bondsmen typically keep 10 to 15 percent of the bail.

“The bondsmen were pretty upset about this to begin with, but we really haven't seen a decrease in the surety bonds,'' Ezzell said, referring to the promissory bonds inmates pay bondsmen if they can't afford the entire bail amount.

A bondsman for Bill May Bail Bonding, the largest bonding company in La Plata County, declined to comment for this story.

In addition to collecting bail fees, the kiosk allows inmates or family members to add money to an inmate's commissary fund. The commissary fund can be used to purchase a variety of items inside the jail, including food, clothing, stationery and hygiene products. The jail provides basics, but extras such as candy bars and shower shoes cost money.

The kiosk is similar to ATMs or credit card machines in the checkout line at grocery stores. It quickly verifies an account and charges the card holder. A camera records each transaction.

Waiting for a friend or family member to secure bail money can take hours or days; banks are closed on the weekends, and ATMs have preset limits ranging from $300 to $1,000.

Going through a bail bondsman can take 12 to 24 hours, whereas the kiosk is virtually instantaneous.

The kiosk has allowed more low-level offenders to go free sooner, Slade said.

“There are definitely people getting out right away who wouldn't have before,'' he said.