$1.6 million lost on state inmates

Boone County gets less than a third of the cost of housing state prisoners.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:35 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Boone County lost an estimated $1.6 million last year housing state prisoners in its county jail.

It costs Boone County between $64 and $69 a day to house a prisoner, yet Boone and every other county in the state gets only $20 per day back from the state to cover the cost of state prisoners’ stays.

In an effort to cut their losses, Missouri’s county commissioners, including Boone County’s Keith Schnarre, Karen Miller and Skip Elkin, have sent a letter to Gov. Matt Blunt asking that daily reimbursements rise to $22.50.

Each year, the legislature determines how much it will reimburse Missouri counties for the state prisoners they are holding. While counties across the state receive the same daily payment, the cost to house inmates in the Boone County Jail is much higher than in some Missouri counties. In Jasper and Newton counties, for instance, it costs about $40 a day to house prisoners, while in Pulaski County, the daily rate is $35.

Capt. Warren Brewer, jail administrator for the Boone County Sheriff’s Department, explained that Boone County’s jail has a higher daily cost than other counties primarily due to its need for competitive salaries. Brewer said that many members of his staff hold advanced degrees and that his salaries are comparable to those in larger Missouri cities.

“You’re looking at a geographic area that is economically sound with a low jobless rate,” he said. “You have to pay competitive wages.”

Anthony Roberts, a budget analyst for the state’s Office of Budget Planning, explained that the House of Representatives proposed an increase in the reimbursement rate for fiscal 2007 to $21.25. But instead, the Missouri General Assembly approved an overall budget increase, which is different from an increase in the daily payment.

Dick Burke, executive director of the Missouri Association of Counties, said an increase in total funding pays off past debts to counties but provides no new funding for counties to house state prisoners in upcoming years.

“The only thing that helps the counties is when the actual reimbursement rate goes up,” Burke said. “That extra $1.25 last year would have meant more funds to the counties.”

The letter sent by Boone County commissioners noted that state law provides for a payment of up to $37.50 a day, but that the state has been unable to meet those payments in the past.

“It’s the legislature’s constitutional authority to appropriate money,” Burke said. “They have the ultimate ability to decide how much anybody gets for any state programs.”

Burke also said that the counties are requesting an increase to $22.50 because that’s the highest amount the legislature has ever approved. That was years ago, and the reimbursement rate has since been cut back to $20 rate. Elkin added that Boone County has never requested the full $37.50 provided under state law because commissioners realize the state will not provide it.

Inmate and prisoner crowding adds to Boone County’s costs. When its jail population overflows, it has to pay other counties to house some of its inmates. The fact that the jail is required to house state prisoners makes the crowding problem worse.

“That gets very expensive,” Elkin said. “Not only do you have to pay their costs, but you have to take in things like transportation, which includes wear and tear on vehicles, and medical costs.”

Elkin worries about the potential affect on the county should the low funding continue into fiscal 2008. The $1.6 million loss comes from Boone County’s general fund, which means it can affect the county’s other services.

“Our pie is only so big, and when we have to subsidize the state of Missouri’s prisoners, it eats into other services you could be providing,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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