In this file photo a Marion County corrections serves supper to inmates through the pod door chuckholes. Marion County Sheriff Jimmy Shinn said the Missouri Department of Correction owes the county more than $200,000 for housing state prisoners. Courier-Post file photo.
Missouri counties paid approximately $41 million in incarceration costs for state prisoners last year, according to an audit released Wednesday by State Auditor Nicole Galloway.
Marion County Sheriff Jimmy Shinn, was not surprised by the audit results. Shinn said as of Dec. 11 the state owed Marion County $201,615 for housing state prisoners and then transporting them to prison.
“The problem is not getting any better,” Shinn said. “Sheriffs across the state fight this on a yearly basis. This makes it very difficult to budget revenues because we do not know when the state is going to pay or how much.”
The findings were discovered during an audit of the state’s County Reimbursement Program, which is administered by the Missouri Department of Corrections. The program is responsible for the reimbursement of county governments for certain costs associated with the housing and transporting of state prisoners.
The audit found that a combination of delayed reimbursements due to a lack of state funding and increasing incarceration costs have delayed the reimbursement of counties.
“Local taxpayers are footing the bill because the state has not been keeping up its end of the deal and the cost of incarcerating state prisoners is increasing,” Galloway said in a media release. “This is an issue throughout Missouri, but is particularly concerning for smaller communities where revenue is especially limited.”
According to Shinn, the Department of Corrections reimburses counties at a rate of $21.58 per day for state inmates.
“That is nowhere close to what it costs to house them here. This rate is set by our state with no negotiation,” he said. “Our estimate is it costs us approximately $45 per day for housing, meals, staff, etc. to house an inmate at this facility.”
According to the audit’s findings the reimbursement rate paid by the state has kept up with inflation over the past 10 years, but it is essentially the same as the rate paid in 1998, despite the fact that incarceration costs have continued to increase. Based on actual costs a more realistic reimbursement fee would be $49 a day, auditors said in the report.
There are some state prisoners for which a county will never see a cent of reimbursement.
“If a subject is charged with a state crime they could sit in the Marion County’s jail for six months because they can’t post bond, then courts put them on probation. We do not get monies from the state for this,” Shinn said. “We only get monies from the state when a subject hits the Department of Corrections.”
According to the audit, as of June 30, 2020, the state owed about $31 million to counties that it did not have the appropriation authority to pay. In fiscal year 2021, the General Assembly approved $52 million for county reimbursements, which includes $9.75 million for unpaid reimbursements. Galloway said that amount would address only about one third of the outstanding claims still owed to counties.
The audit found that the Department of Corrections has not requested sufficient funds to pay the outstanding reimbursement claims and past budget requests haven’t included information about the previous years’ shortfalls. Auditors recommended that the department request the money necessary to pay all obligations and ensure the financial history of the program is included so the legislators have an understanding of how much is owed to county governments.
“I have tried to speak with our (state) representative and senator frequently and express our issues with this budget problem. I have done this for several years now. They both are well aware of this,” Shinn said.
Auditors surveyed counties to better understand the impact of low reimbursement rates and delayed payments. According to these local officials, issues with state reimbursements resulted in not having enough revenue to cover jail costs and, as a result, having to reduce other services or increase local tax rates. Additionally, lack of revenue leads to difficulty in hiring new sheriffs’ employees due to low salaries or lack of equipment.
Shinn said that overall, through 2020, the Marion County Jail has generated over $900,000 in prisoner board bills. This includes fees paid by neighboring counties that house inmates in the Palmyra facility, the state reimbursements and through federal inmate housing reimbursements.
“We are hopeful and optimistic that these relationships continue as we know and understand that this affects the overall budget for Marion County,” the sheriff said.
By Danny Henley | Hannibal Courier Post