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Chillicothe News - Chillicothe, MO
  • Little state support leaves county jails struggling with costs

  • "She got the goldmine, I got the shaft. They split it right down the middle, and then they give her the better half."Mick Covington, executive director of the Missouri Sheriff's Association, says "it" reminds him of "that old song."When Covington says "that old song," he is talking of Jerry Reed's "She Got the Goldmin...
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  • "She got the goldmine, I got the shaft. They split it right down the middle, and then they give her the better half."
    Mick Covington, executive director of the Missouri Sheriff's Association, says "it" reminds him of "that old song."
    When Covington says "that old song," he is talking of Jerry Reed's "She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft)." The "it" Covington is referring to? The relationship between the State of Missouri and its county jail system.
    "I think the counties are getting the shaft," Covington said.
    Counties across the state face similar financial situations and struggle to stretch dollars to their limit to provide necessary services. But those required services go beyond just keeping county roads and bridges passable. Housing prisoners can cost counties hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, and what little money they do receive from the state doesn't measure up to meet rising costs of maintenance, food and inmate medical expenses.
    There are 103 county jailing facilities in the state of Missouri. Last year the state reimbursed counties more than $38 million for housing inmates who eventually end up in a Missouri Department of Corrections facility.
    A maximum reimbursement amount of $37.50 per prisoner, per day was established by statute July 1, 1997, but counties have never seen amounts close to that figure. According to Missouri DOC spokesman David Owen, reimbursements in FY 2013 were $19.58.
    Covington estimates actual inmate costs run closer to at least $40-$45 per day. In contrast, he said the federal government reimburses counties $50-$75 per day for housing federal prisoners.
    While the reimbursement total has increased little (it was $17 in 1996), the same cannot be said for the cost of food, utilities, hygiene products and health care that must be provided to inmates when they reach the pre-trial detainee stage. Counties also receive no reimbursements for those inmates who stay in their facilities but who are sentenced to probation; those who stay in the county facility, but who are later discharged with time served; those sentenced to time in the county jail; or those who are judged innocent of their alleged crimes and released from the county facility.
    County jail inmates are required to pay counties for their cost of imprisonment, according to statute, but Convington said those persons often cannot pay their jail costs, even when put on a payment plan. They just don't have the money.
    Neither do the counties.
    "It's a very heavy economic drain on the counties," Covington said. "It's becoming a very serious problem. I'd say every sheriff in the state is maximizing what they have."
    The Livingston County Jail opened its doors in 1978 as a 48-bed facility. After 34 years of operation, however, the jail was closed Dec. 31, 2012. According to County Commissioner Eva Danner-Horton, building issues, staffing issues and the expenses of running and operating the jail were several factors that played into the final decision to close the jail.
    Page 2 of 3 - For the past year, Livingston County inmates have been housed instead at the Daviess/Dekalb Regional Jail in Pattonsburg, located about 60 miles northwest of the city of Chillicothe. Instead of paying for jail operations and staffing, the Livingston County Commission has budgeted to pay to house the inmates at Daviess/Dekalb Regional Jail.
    The commission budgeted $361,900 for the entire year to cover the county's average 37 inmates per day. The money used in the budget is taken from the county's general revenue. Thirty dollars is spent per prisoner per day, plus a $25 transportation fee for Daviess/Dekalb Regional Jail employees to pick up the inmates in Chillicothe. Once an inmate has been picked up from Chillicothe, Daviess/Dekalb employees provide transportation without additional cost if they need to be transported back to court in Livingston County.
    "They are the only one that I know of that transports the prisoners back to court, because otherwise we would have to have extra staff and vehicles to do the transport," Danner-Horton said. "That's something that's a plus to us."
    To date, the county has spent $366,600 on these operations - nearly $5,000 more than the commission's initial budget.
    The Livingston County Commission is working with the Goldberg Group-Architects, PC, to compare last year's budget and expenditures, which included the maintenance and operation of the Livingston County Jail, to this year's budget and expenditures on transporting inmates to Daviess/Dekalb Regional Jail. The analysis will tell the commission whether it would be beneficial to consider re-opening the jail or to continue transporting inmates to Daviess/Dekalb.
    Missouri's reimbursement system is unique within bordering states. Neither Illinois nor Kansas participate in any sort of reimbursement plan. Kansas DOC Communications Director Jeremy Barclay, upon hearing of the Missouri plan, even referred to it as "kind of generous of the State of Missouri," saying that his state prefers to keep such matters "to the lowest possible government entity."
    Iowa does reimburse counties for inmates at $50 per day, though it does so less frequently and only for certain offenses. Iowa's total reimbursements to all counties last fiscal year was just over $1 million.
    The State of Missouri is currently at its apex in regards to prisoner housing, Covington said. "Busting at the seams," is the term he used. Because of this, the DOC is sending certain prison inmates back down to the county jails, or letting them out on probation or parole.
    "Any offender delivered to and received by the Department of Corrections is taken into the department's custody," Owen said, in response.
    When asked his opinion on why the state government has not stepped up to the plate in order to rectify the monetary situation, Covington said he thinks "it's a matter of legislators not realizing the magnitude of the problem."
    Page 3 of 3 - "It is a black hole that [counties] just pour money into," he said.
    Danner-Horton said that the issue of state reimbursement is one that has been an issue for quite some time.
    "That's always a major issue," Danner-Horton said. "Every year we go to the state legislature and lobby to try to get them to increase that because it's not enough. The other issue is that we don't get it on every single one of those days, because they have to be sent on to state corrections before we get paid. They're state prisoners, yet we're getting stuck with the cost of it."
    State Representative Mike Lair said that he was unaware of the issue county jails faced with the state budget until recently.
    “Two or three years ago I was asked by the sheriff to serve on an interim committee that dealt with these problems,” Lair said. “Until that time I wasn't cognizant of the issue. I realized then that most of the folks that are in a county jail are actually state prisoners, and for the state to not pay in the amount that it costs to hold them doesn't seem very fair, so we have pursued that. We've done some things for the sheriffs and deputies but we haven't dealt with the amount of money that the state pays and that should be done, there's no doubt about that.”
    Mo. Gov. Jay Nixon's office sent out the following statement in response to inquiries:
    "[Governor] Nixon has been a strong supporter of Missouri law enforcement during his 27 years in public office, and that includes working to ensure that those agencies have appropriate resources. We will continue reviewing each issue as the Governor prepares to submit his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2015 to the General Assembly in January."
    Covington said the current model is unsustainable.
    "I think the pertinent thing here is that the criminal and civil justice system in the state of Missouri is a partnership between the state and local governments," Covington said. "For some reason, it's out of whack. There has to be an awakening on behalf of the state and on behalf of the citizens that the state work towards that 50/50 relationship. How they get there is the process called democracy, and that process needs to take place.
    "We cannot continue this way."
    The Missouri Judge's Association did not reply to requests for comment on the matter.
    Constitution-Tribune reporter Calli Price contributed to this story.
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