04/21/11 — Jail cost bill advances

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Jail cost bill advances

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 21, 2011 1:46 PM

Legislation that would push inmates serving time for misdemeanors into local jails instead of state prisons has passed its second reading in the state House and has been referred to the Appropriations Committee.

Local officials have said the move could cost Wayne County up to $2 million.

"Things that we told you would happen have now happened," County Attorney Borden Parker told county commissioners at their Tuesday meeting. "House Bill 642, which is called the Justice Reinvestment Act, Part VII of it requires the local government confinement facilities to keep all misdemeanants. If this part of it passes, everybody who is sentenced up to six months will have to spend that entire time in your jail."

It would cost the county $50 per day per inmate to keep them in the jail or $75 if they have to be housed in another out-of-county facility, County Manager Lee Smith said. The $75 does not include any costs associated with transportation or medical expenses.

The additional cost would mean at least four cents, maybe more, added to the local property tax rate, Smith said.

To hopefully head off some of that cost, Smith said his budget proposal will include expansion of the county's Day Reporting Center, including the addition of personnel to expand the electronic monitoring program.

"If we can, and if the judges allow and they are not at-risk folks, then we will put them out on electronic monitoring at $4 to $7 per day versus $50 to $75 per day," Smith said. "We are trying to do something to negate the cost. That is all that I can do at this time."

"Mr. Smith, that is going to devastate, devastate this county," Commissioner John Bell said. "We have 1,200 people sentenced each year as misdemeanants from this county."

Without the electronic monitoring, the county could have as many as 500 inmates serving time in the county jail which can't happen because it isn't nearly large enough to hold that many, Smith said.

"That means I will have to send them out and I will have to have somewhere between $1.8 million to $2 million to send inmates to other facilities if they are available nearby," he said. "The problem is availability. If this passes, it is devastating.

"So we are shooting for electronic monitoring to offset it as much as we can. (Expanding the Day Reporting Center) is going to cost us a couple hundred thousand dollars, but that compares to $2 million -- I had rather spend the $200,000 versus $2 million. We are trying to get ready for it because I think that some of it is coming."

Bell noted that 16-year-old offenders will cost the county more as well.

"The governor has decided that she is not charging us enough for keeping 16-year-olds and that rate is going up," Parker said.

The rate could increase from $89 to $130 per 16-year-old per day.

Smith said that is one reason that the county budget is "in flux at best."

"We are having to change that (budget)," Smith said. "I think we had a couple hundred thousand dollars. We are going to have to move that up $100,000 or $150,000 based on that fee. If they raise it again, we are not going to have enough money."

Smith said local legislators are aware of the county's concerns and are supportive of the county's point of view. The same cannot be said for other areas of the state, he said.

"Legislators need to suck it up and do what is right for this state to get it back into where we have a balanced budget without passing down all of these things to the county," Commissioner Jack Best said. "If they can't suck it up and get rid of some of the fat up there and do what they have got to do for the state something is wrong.

"We basically send people up there to run the state and we want it run in a business-like manner so they won't keep passing down this stuff to us that we cannot afford. What they are doing is saying, 'You pass the tax onto the people because we don't have the guts to do it.' That is exactly what they are saying."

Parker said that the county needs to maintain a close watch on the state budget to see how it will affect the county. However, he noted that the Justice Reinvestment Act was a separate bill and not part of the state budget.