06/08/09 — Proposal could cut funds for inmates

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Proposal could cut funds for inmates

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 8, 2009 1:46 PM

Progress the county has made in reducing the jail population and associated cost could evaporate should aspects of the state House budget remain, county officials said last week.

The state budget recommends eliminating the $18 per day reimbursement paid to counties for prisoners serving sentences of 30-90 days in the county jail. This will result in a reduction of $10 million to counties across North Carolina and could cost Wayne County up to $100,000.

Commissioner Steve Keen brought the budget proposal to the attention of the board at its Tuesday meeting and asked that it support a resolution opposing the measure.

Sheriff Carey Winders also spoke against the plan and others he said that would hurt the county.

"It will cost us and it will overcrowd us if they put that back on us," Winders said.

The board agreed with Keen and approved the resolution 6-0. Commissioner Andy Anderson is out of the state and did not attend the meeting.

Another state budget proposal could cost the county even more.

Currently, prisoners sentenced up to 90 days imprisonment must serve their sentence in the county jail. The proposal would extend that time period so that prisoners sentenced to serve up to six months would serve their entire sentence in the county jail.

"That is just going to kill the county," Commissioner John Bell said. "There are more of those kind of inmates than any other kind."

According to the Department of Correction's Division of Prisons, there were 1,700 misdemeanants in the state prison system serving sentences between 90 days and 6 months.

"First, the reduction of the $18 per day per state-held inmate would cost the county $75,000-$100,000 in lost revenues," said County Manager Lee Smith. "Overcrowding has been a huge issue for Wayne County for years, and with everyone locally working together, Wayne County has been able to reduce our inmate numbers from our average of 260 plus per day to approximately 200 per day. That is a potential savings to the state and county of $900,000 per year in inmate-related operations and costs."

It has not been unusual for the jail population to surpass 250.

According to figures provided by the office of Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold O. Jones II, the jail population was 196 on June 3, falling to 180 on June 4.

"Shifting state inmates with longer sentences will absolutely increase our cost at a rate of $48 per day per inmate, basically nullifying our progress to reduce inmate population in Wayne County," Smith said. "If the state does carry through with these actions, Wayne County taxpayers will see a new detention center placed before the Board of Commissioners much quicker than we had planned.

"Our last estimate for construction of a new off-site facility was $52 million. Locally, we have worked together to avoid this project and keep our inmate population manageable. The (state) actions will be devastating to Wayne County."

Winders also is concerned that a proposal to raise the age of juvenile offenders from 16 to 18 would add even more to the jail population and cost to the county.

Another budget recommendation would require law enforcement officers to pay a $45 fee for the 24 hours of annual training required to maintain their certification.

Currently, the fees are waived.

"That would cost us $38,000 just to maintain the officers we have," Winders said. "It would just be another expense on us."