Task force addresses costs of overflowing Boone County Jail

Wednesday, July 2, 2008 | 11:01 p.m. CDT; updated 12:22 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Boone County Jail budgeted $300,000 in 2008 to house excess inmates in neighboring counties. But recently there have been so many overflow inmates that the costs could exceed that budget by more than $100,000.

The Boone County Judicial and Law Enforcement Task Force held a meeting Wednesday night to address the problem.

The surge has been especially bad in the last four to six weeks, Boone County Circuit Judge Gary Oxenhandler said. On Wednesday, 47 inmates were housed in other jails.

For comparison, in 2007 the average number of inmates the jail housed in other counties was 6.5, according to the Boone County Jail’s Web site. Boone County spent only about $15,000 on the program last year.

At the meeting, the task force was uncertain as to the cause of the surge, but determined the solution required better cooperation between the prosecutor and the public defender.

The group decided the county needed a “jail triage,” in which people from the public defender’s office, the prosecutor’s office and court services would meet regularly to see if there were any nonviolent offenders they could let out.

Committee Chair Rusty Antel questioned whether jailing people for failure to pay fines was “a wise use of resources” because this wound up costing the county more money than the fine was worth.

The group did not believe any single factor was causing the surge, but speculated on a variety of contributing issues: the use of deliberately unrealistic cash-only bonds, the way plea bargaining rules out alternative sentencing such as home detention, and sentences on misdemeanors that drag on for over a year because of probation violations.

They also noted that the relationship between the public defender’s office and the prosecutor’s office had deteriorated over the past year. This was a major concern of the task force because the jail system depends on the force’s ability to negotiate cases quickly.

Every inmate housed outside of Boone County costs $35 per day, plus transportation costs, Oxenhandler said.

He calculated that if Boone County continued to house around 50 inmates in other counties every day, it would exceed its annual budget by $189,000. Even a reduction to 35 inmates per day would still put the program $83,000 over budget.

The task force plans to meet in a month or two to revisit the issue.

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