Christian County Promotes Two

Christian County Sheriff Brad Cole (center) promoted two members of his jail staff on Tuesday, April 22.

Jason Applegate was promoted to the position of jail lieutenant and Krystal Smith was promoted to the rank of sergeant.

Jason Applegate began his career with the Christian County Sheriff’s Office in February 2015 as a corrections officer. He quickly moved up through the ranks to corporal over Transport then later to administration sergeant.

“Jason is a dedicated and hardworking employee. The hard work and dedication he demonstrated is why he was he was promoted to the position of lieutenant over the jail,” the sheriff said.  

Krystal Smith began her career with the Christian County Sheriff’s Office in March 2007, handling many roles during her 13 years of service with the sheriff’s Office.

“She has been a role model and a team player since day one. Her latest assignment was corporal over Transportation. The hard work and dedication of she demonstrated during her time here earned her rank of sergeant within the jail,” Sheriff Cole said.

Photo provided.

Inmate Labor Force Works to Better Themselves, County

Nearly a year after the construction of the evidence storage facility at the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, the Lincoln County Jail’s volunteer inmate labor force has been working on other projects designed to better the county – and themselves.

“Last year, She​​riff (John) Cottle built the Inmate Training Center, which is utilized by both inmates and disenfranchised citizens in Lincoln County to better their occupational skill set to land a great paying job,” said Lieutenant Andy Binder, public information officer. “Sheriff Cottle, employees and volunteer inmates started the second stage of construction on the Inmate Manufacturing Building. Inmates will take the skills they learned in the Inmate Training Center and apply to hands on construction of tiny homes.”

Yes, tiny homes.

Lincoln County’ inmate workforce has worked with different non-profit organizations and completed several projects. Several of those included renovating the Britton House, doing landscaping several churches and chopping wood for the Bridgeway Women’s Shelter.

“Look around Lincoln County. We are growing and in need of a qualified and trained workforce,” Binder said.

Binder also said the program has helped reduce the recidivism rate for inmates at the jail.

“(Cottle) has had a long standing vision of reducing recidivism in Lincoln County,” he said. “For many, recidivism is nothing more than lip service use by law enforcement to attempt to justify their policies and/or procedures and offers very little to a long-term strategy to reduce the number of inmates coming through the criminal justice system.

“Inmates with a future are far better off than inmates with none. Sheriff Cottle is showing the people of Lincoln County that (reversing) recidivism can be achieved, and is showing how a local work program can change the lives of families impacted with an incarcerated person.”

Inmates have to request training, or to work, and sign a volunteer form to be accepted into the workforce program. This training is open to all local and federal inmates. Federal inmates and/or inmates who transfer to prison can finish the training at their respective location. Lincoln County’s workforce training mirrors similar federal and state prisons.

Binder said when inmates volunteer for the workforce, they are enrolled in Telify (Missouri Jobs), MoJobs.gov and Connections for Success.

Connections for Success works and trains inmates in construction skills they will use in the Inmate Manufacturing Building. The program also includes curriculum to improve life skills, including balancing a budget, writing a resume and how to tackle personal programs in a more positive and meaningful way, according to Binder.

Once an inmate completes the program,  he earns his apprenticeship through the United States Department of Labor. If an inmate is released prior to completing the program he can still complete it on the civilian side of the training building.

Despite the fact the program is voluntary, or its success, critics might still consider the workforce labor program “cheap labor” or “modern-day slavery.” Binder would say it is giving Lincoln County’s inmates a chance at a better life once they’re released.

“We say, when citizens see (the inmates) working on beautification projects, working on buildings, doing non-for-profit projects, enhancing Lincoln County parks and cemeteries, stop and ask them if they consider themselves ‘modern-day slavery,’ which is a ridiculous statement to make,” Binder said. “ Ask the inmates if they feel like ‘cheap labor.’ Ask them.

“Inmates are giving back to their community in more ways than any of the naysayers. Doing something positive for once in their lives should be championed, not put down. We ignore the noise and keep moving forward because this is not about Sheriff John Cottle, it’s about changing broken lives and impacting Lincoln County in a positive way to enhance the quality of life for all the people.”

The ultimate goal of the program is to create the type of change the citizens of Lincoln County can see and believe.

“We want citizens to say, ‘that guy was nothing but trouble, but now he has completely changed his life and moving in a positive direction.’ Who does not like a success story?” Binder said. “Our goal is to ensure all people in Lincoln County can benefit from the programs Sheriff John Cottle has implemented. That has been the direction of the Sheriff’s Office under Sheriff John Cottle’s leadership. It’s taken a few years to get here but we are moving in the right direction for both inmates and for disenfranchised citizens in Lincoln County.”

By S​hawn Singleton | Lincoln News Now.com

Supreme Court Responds to Risk of Exposure to COVID-19 in Jails, Prisons

In response to questions about the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in prisons and county and city jails, ​on March 30 ​the Supreme Court of Missouri sent all state judges a letter calling attention to the various rules and statutes governing pretrial release of individuals charged with offenses but not yet found guilty as well as those governing release of individuals who have been found guilty and sentenced. 

 
In doing so, the Court leaves decisions about the release of any particular individuals to the discretion of local judges to make appropriate decisions under the facts and circumstances of each particular case. 
 
The verbiage of the letter, ​which is ​available on the Missouri Courts’ COVID-19 alerts page, is included below:

Re: Jail Populations and the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

Dear Judges,

As a result of recent inquiries regarding the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in prisons and county and city jails, the Supreme Court of Missouri wants to call attention to the following rules and statutes.

In 2019, this Court revised its bond and pretrial release rules. Rule 33.01 addresses a defendant’s right to be released from custody pending trial. Rule 29.18 provides individuals detained as a result of a probation or parole violation also have a right to release prior to any final hearing on the matter. Likewise, Rule 37.15 addresses a defendant’s right to be released from custody following an ordinance violation.

Once a defendant has been convicted and sentenced, the power of courts to order release of an incarcerated offender is governed by statute. Missouri courts have the statutory authority to release an offender sentenced to a term in the county jail on judicial parole. Specifically, section 559.100.1 provides:

The circuit courts of this state shall have power, herein provided, to place on probation or to parole persons convicted of any offense over which they have jurisdiction, except as otherwise provided in section 559.115, section 565.020, sections 566.030, 566.060, 566.067, 566.125, 566.151, and 566.210, section 571.015, section 579.170, and subsection 3 of section 589.425.

This authority is limited by section 559.115.1, which provides: “Neither probation nor parole shall be granted by the circuit court between the time the transcript on appeal from the offender’s conviction has been filed in appellate court and the disposition of the appeal by such court.”

Section 559.115.2 further provides that, subject to the limitations in section 559.115.1 and 559.115.8, courts “have the power to grant probation to an offender anytime up to one hundred twenty days after such offender has been delivered to the department of corrections but not thereafter.”

The Court appreciates your continued efforts to prevent the spread of COVID19 in your respective jurisdictions.

Sincerely, GEORGE W. DRAPER III Chief Justice

Auditor Galloway Pursues Answers for Missourians about Offender Giveaways

Taxpayers and law enforcement deserve information on funding of Department of Corrections’ rewards program for offenders

State Auditor Nicole Galloway today said her office is demanding answers from the Missouri Department of Corrections on concerns related to the Missouri Offender Management Matrix. The program provides incentives to offenders who are on probation and parole.

Local law enforcement and taxpayers have expressed repeated concerns related to this program and how incentives such as gift cards, vouchers and passes to local attractions are being funded. Multiple media outlets have reported on the issue and the Department has failed to adequately answer these inquiries and explain details of this program.      

“As the state’s independent watchdog, I want answers to basic questions about this program’s funding sources and operations,” Auditor Galloway said. “Taxpayers and local law enforcement deserve to know about the cost of handing out these incentives to offenders. To date, the Department of Corrections has been unable or unwilling to be fully transparent with Missourians.”

The State Auditor’s Office is requesting information on the funding source of the program, the total numbers of incentives disbursed to date, the system for monitoring and tracking incentives, and the amount of taxpayer-funded staff time required for administering the program.  

Read the complete letter here.

Missouri Racks up $32 Million in County Jail Bills

The state owes Missouri counties more than $32 million for housing and transporting inmates who end up going to state prison. Missouri’s tab has been a problem for years, but the amount has grown in recent years by a significant amount. In October 2017, Missourinet reported the state was about six months behind in paying its county jail bills with an overall $19 million dollar deficit.

The shortfall stems from Missouri being the only state in the country that repays counties for part of the daily local jail cost – about $22 – to house prisoners who eventually head to state prison. The average daily local jail cost in Missouri is around $50.

The state House Subcommittee on County Prison Per Diem Reimbursement is trying to find ways to shrink the overall cost the state is piling on. The solutions vary among state elected officials as to how to reduce the financial gap.

During a hearing today, Representative Don Mayhew, R-Crocker, says the state needs to pay its bills.

“I don’t know how we got in this position in the first place, but now we’ve got to get ourselves out of it.”

Several county officials attended to speak about the matter. A couple of them said their counties could not get away with falling behind on their bills and neither should the state.

Boone County Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill says the state owes his county is about $1 million.

“Boone County is dependent upon sales tax for almost 70% of its total revenue,” says Atwill. “For the last five years, that has not increased but our population has increased in that same five-year period by 10,000 residents. We’re in a budgetary squeeze and this is a big part of it. So, we need your help.”

Atwill says Boone County relies on the state tremendously to fill this void.

“The buck doesn’t stop here in Boone County,” says Atwill. “We’re at ground level. We’re the earthworms of government and a lot of things roll downhill to us that we just have to deal with and this is one of them. It wouldn’t be so bad if this were the only thing that we were dealing with.”

Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker says the state owes his county about $400,000.

“We are just underway completing a $35 million jail expansion in Franklin,” he says. “We have a jail with capacity right now – a maximum of 130 that we’ve stuffed 217 in it in a given day.”

Calloway County Presiding Commissioner Gary Jungerman says the state owes his county about $328,000 from at least the past year.

“Right now, the fear is we’re going to lose it all. We can’t lose it all,” he says. “We’re willing to sit down and talk about the situation and try to figure some things out, but to say that it’s gone is not the correct answer because it’s going to cause many jails to shut down probably.”

Jungerman says the daily cost increases if his jail is short staffed and overtime is needed. Rising utility, meals and healthcare costs also jack up the price. Jungerman says the rising costs are felt by other Missouri jails, not just his.

“We’re booking about 2,800 people a year through our lovely hotel,” he says. “There are many counties across the state in the last few years that have run bond issues because of jail issues. I can’t speak for all those counties, but they passed. But I’ll speak for Callaway County. The general public, the voters of our counties, still believe that criminals need to be in a jail.”

The Department of Corrections gets a set amount of money each quarter to dole out to counties. When the money is out, counties must wait until the next quarter for the chance at getting what they are owed.

Alisa Nelson | Missourinet  

Sheriffs Visit Jefferson City to Get Answers

On February 5th of this year, Sheriffs Wayne Winn (Scotland County), Shawn Webster (Clark County) and Scott Munsterman (Johnson County) represented the region for the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association in Jefferson City. Winn and Webster serve as the leader and assistant leader respectively, for the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association Zone 4, which includes Clark, Knox, Lewis, Marion, Monroe, Ralls, Scotland and Shelby coun​​ties. During their visit, the respective sheriffs and MSA Director Kevin Merritt were able to meet with legislators when they visited the state capital to listen to bills being passed around and discussed, during which they had the chance to meet with several senators and representatives in Jefferson City.

Winn was able to sit in and listen to some of the bills being discussed in committee, for which those present gave their support or opposition. Winn mentioned there were a couple of bills they were in support of and a few they did not support.

According to Winn, those who are attending with the Sheriff’s association are from different zones and participation is rotated among those in specific zones. Those who are part of Zone 4 had their turn last week, which would give the senators and representatives a face on who the sheriffs are. The Sheriff’s Association has its own lobbyist too. It should be noted that more direct interaction helps to strengthen relations between the Sheriff’s Association and lawmakers.

When asked if he testified while sitting in on the presentation of the bills, Winn responded. “Kevin Merritt, the director of our association testified on one.”

“We went down to talk to senators about probation and parole, how we’re not getting paid back by the state for per diem, and why probation and parole, releasing prisoners off of probation and releasing them without sentencing them to jail. Early releases, stuff like and plus people that abscond from getting picked up and only being sent to jail and then getting released again after they’ve had to pursue and chase them. One of the things we’re fighting with them right now is the per diem and the money they owe us for prisoners being held and they’re not paying.”

When asked how far behind the state was with reimbursing the county, Winn walked to his office to find the reference sheets, which shows that the state owes Scotland County $23,647.00.

“We’re fighting DOC for this funding,” Winn stated. “The director of DOC said, ‘this is not how other states do it.’ It’s a state law. We’re just asking you to follow state law and reimburse us.” Regarding last year’s reimbursement, Winn commented they were still behind.

Some legislators have offered to help including Representative David Evans, of the 154th District, who is the sponsor of the following house bills:

1519 which deals with bail bonds with modified provisions

1520 which deals with parole conditions

1735 which focuses on per diem costs that jails would get compensated from the state jail reimbursement

Winn said they were fighting an issue with the Supreme Court as the Supreme Court has issued a ruling regarding bail bonds and why Winn said they were not holding prisoners anymore. Because they cannot prove they are a danger to society or a flight risk, they cannot hold them; they can issue a citation, which Winn disagrees with.

“I think some of these crimes are dangerous to society but unless you really get proof of them being a flight risk or being a danger to society” referring to an incident earlier this year in which the jail the court house was destroyed when someone ripped the all plumbing out, leading to a lack of being able to hold anyone in jail until the jail is repaired. He mentioned the property destroyer had set fire to a person’s house before and is currently not in jail. It’s like anything else, if you don’t put a face to what you’re doing, you kind of get ignored. So, we decided we’re going to take a stand and go down and talk to the senators and representatives and just tell them what’s happened and what we’re dealing with. We also went down to tell them the history of jail costs.

“We’re required to accept prisoners, it’s federal law and the liable cost for incarceration and the boarding of prisoners, it’s for the state to reimburse how much they’re supposed to pay us. In 1996 the per diem was raised from $17 to $20. Twenty-six million was authorized in 1997 for county per diem. In 1997 County per diem was twenty-six million; DOC budget was over three hundred million; Missouri State Highway Patrol budget was approximately One hundred and twenty million. In 2019, our county budget per diem was thirty-four to forty million, that’s what the state allowed to be paid back to the counties. The DOC budget was nearly eight-hundred million; Missouri State Highway Patrol budget was approximately three hundred and fifty million; The DPS budget, including the highway patrol was seven hundred and fifty million, so DOC and DPS is 1.5 billion and they’re having trouble paying us back what they owe us.”

The per diem rates highlight the fluctuation of costs over the past twenty-two years.

1998-2002: $22.50

2002-2007: $20

2007-2008: $21.25

2008-2010: $22

2010-2014: $19.58

2014-2015: $21.58

2015-2016: $20.58

2016-2017: $21.08

2017-2019: $22.58

The per diem reimbursement is just for inmates who have gone onto the DOC, and does not include the inmates who have not gone to the DOC.

“This is what we bill for, for the days they (inmates) sit in our jail. If they sit there for six months, we turn it in. Of course, the prisoners get jail credit for those days but that’s what they (the state) pays us back per day for that, even though we charge $35 a day for my jail rate.”

The actual cost of keeping someone in jail includes but is not limited to clothing, meals, accommodations, water rate, not to mention the staff, surveillance, equipment, and insurance. The current state meal reimbursement rate including breakfast, lunch and dinner is $34 a day, which means the jail is being underfunded. When asked where the food came from, Winn said they ordered things from Kohl Wholesale in Quincy, IL including lunch meat and pop-tarts. They also go to J’s to get hot meals. Supplemental items including bread, milk, fruit drinks and tea also come from J’s.

According to Winn, when he first started as sheriff, the jail was budgeting with a local restaurant which was providing all the meals, charging roughly $2.75 a meal, a relatively reasonable price; the bid was raised to $4.25. After deliberation, Winn realized that the raised bid could hurt the budget. Prisoners get fed a bowl of cereal for breakfast, a lunchmeat sandwich for lunch and a hot meal for supper. When asked what was going to happen with the extra prisoners, Winn responded, “That’s what we’re fighting right now and, here’s something else, DOC admits it pays $60 a day to house inmates, but we only get reimbursed $22.58, but that’s still not paying their bill.”

DOC came back with a published article that said a study was done and that offenders were serving fifty-three percent of their time, with a reporter in the committee asking how that percentage was calculated. The fifty-three percent is counting the time spent in county jail.

Time was calculated by looking at time the offenders were sitting in county jail, which counts as time served, which Winn believes is wrong. “To me, when you get sentenced to four years in the department of corrections, you should be going there, serving four years at the Department of Corrections. They give them time for good behavior, they give them credit for time served, which is more than a day, I think it is a day and a half for each day they served in a county jail. So, these people, we take them down to prison and I’ve heard them sitting in the backseat, going ‘I’m only going to be down here for six months’, and I’m sitting there thinking ‘How could this happen?’ Now we’ve got the governor closing prisons, state prisons. Cameron just closed and they are closing Tipton.”

Memphis Democrat

Disunity among sheriffs, probation and parole leaders

​A man who was serving a life sentence in a 1994 murder-for-hire plot in Tennessee is out of prison. 

There’s more frustration among Missouri sheriffs about a new system for people on Probation or Parole.

A meeting with those sheriffs and state officials got heated and ended when at least one sheriff walked out, and our cameras came in.

Many lawmen across the state say the system is broken. Multiple local sheriffs say it’s dangerous and threatens the public’s safety.

Probation and parole disagrees, and says the system is aimed at rehabilitation.

“People who are on probation and parole, leaving a probation and parole office high on methamphetamine– tested positive for it and was allowed to leave!” exclaimed Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott.

Local sheriffs are fired up about the issue again, seven months after it was adopted.

“If you have someone testing positive for meth or any kind of drug and they walk back out onto the street immediately after they test positive and get in a car and drive away– that is a pu​​blic safety issue. And that is just one of a few of the examples that I can give you,” said Sheriff Brad Cole of Christian County.

The Missouri Division of Probation and Parole says the new system is better tailored for rehabbing criminals.

“We can’t say a blanket statement that everybody on probation or parole that gets two dirty urine tests is going to prison. I can’t give a blanket analysis of what we would do in those circumstances. But what we’re trying to do is look at these cases individually, and depending on what the risk factors are, depending on what the circumstances are of this case, I can’t say there is a blanket decision to return people to prison based on a number of anything,” said Julie Kempker, the director of probation and parole. She has been on a statewide tour to try to get many upset sheriffs on the same page as her division.

“The blame is being placed on the wrong people,” said Kempker. We asked who should the blame be placed on.

“It’s not for me to determine, not for me to decide. As the director of probation and parole, my job is to make sure P&P staff are supervising their clients to the best of their ability with the resources that we have,” Kempker said.

“You can ask the other sheriffs who were in attendance, they feel the same way, it’s ridiculous that we are letting people go and knowingly doing it,” Arnott said.

“You have to have consequences. You can’t come to your P&P meeting and test positive for meth two times in a row and nothing be done!” said Sheriff Cole.

Another thing the sheriffs are upset about is that our KY3 cameras aren’t being allowed inside these meetings, as we are trying to be the eyes and ears of the tax-paying public.

“Often times when the media is here, I think there is a lot of grandstanding and that’s not what I wanted,” said Kempker.

When we tried to come in, the meeting was ended immediately. The sheriffs are urging transparency.

KY3 has asked the governor to weigh in, since he is from this area, and a former sheriff. He has agreed to an interview on Saturday. We will have his take on the situation next week.

 
​By ​Sara Forhetz | KY3 News

State Budget to Include $22 Million Owed to County Jails

An effort is underway by the Parson administration to pay down the $33,429,739 tab owed to county jails across the state.

The state has been accruing the debt across 114 counties which transport, house, process, extrad​​ite, feed and provide health care to offenders in the pre-trial or appeal phases.

Gov. Parson said Friday in an address to the County Commissioners Association of Missouri that his budget proposal will include a $22 million sum to pay down a large portion of the backlog.

The state has three methods for county reimbursement, according to its website:

Bill of Costs – These are expenses that accrue as a result of various costs and fees arising out of the prosecution of certain crimes.
Extradition – These are expenses that accrue as a result of a fugitive being returned to Missouri to face the disposition of criminal charges.
Transportation – These are delivery expenses that accrue as a result of convicted offenders being delivered to the department’s Reception and Diagnostic Centers.

The board reimbursement rate has not significantly changed since at least 1998, according to the Missouri Department of Corrections.

Below is a summary of the backlogged debt owed to some of the counties in mid-Missouri as of Dec. 31, 2019:

COUNTY​ ​AMOUNT DUE:

  • Boone​ ​$1,006,358
  • Cole​ ​$137,792
  • Callaway​ ​$254,681
  • Audrain​ ​$201,472
  • Howard​ ​$32,927
  • Cooper​ ​$77,024
  • Moniteau​ ​$135,842
  • Miller​ ​$208,000
 
​By Joe McLean | ABC 17 News KMIZ​

Sheriffs Ask State to Stop Shorting Them on Jail Costs

Sheriffs from counties across Missouri called on state lawmakers Monday to find a way to pay back nearly $35 million in debt connected to their county jail operations.

The state owes the money to counties, as well as the city of St. Louis, whose jails have held state prisoners while they await trial. The backlog also includes money owed to counties for transporting prisoners from local jails to state prison facilities, as well as money spent collecting suspects who are arrested in other states.

“This has been a long-term problem,” Lewis County Sheriff David Parrish told members of the House Subcommittee on County Prison Per Diem Reimbursement.

The panel is working to develop a recommendation for repayment that will be considered by the House Budget Committee as it crafts the state’s $30.9 billion spending plan.

The decision is one more pressure point facing Gov. Mike Parson and the GOP-controlled Legislature as they work to put together a spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The state’s public defender system says it needs an estimated 300 more attorneys to effectively represent poor people in court. Correctional officers are owed more than $114 million in back pay stemming from a lawsuit guards brought against the Department of Corrections.

And, Parson did not call for an estimated $3 million to give raises to low-paid workers at the state’s nursing homes for military veterans in order to stop a turnover rate of about 80%.

At the same time, Republican lawmakers continue to debate various attempts to reduce the state’s tax rates on individuals and corporations, resulting in a potential decrease in revenues.

In January, Parson, a former sheriff, recommended funneling an extra $22 million to the fund to pay down the debt.

In St. Louis, the city is owed $2.4 million, according to figures provided by the Missouri Department of Corrections. St. Louis County is owed $3.3 million. St. Charles has been shortchanged $1.1 million, while Jefferson County is out $455,000.

While Parson’s budget proposal is a start toward closing the gap, Parrish and other county officials say the state’s failure to pay the full amount has led to financial hardships and overcrowding in county lock-ups.

The daily reimbursement rate hasn’t risen above $22 for the past two decades. The actual cost is closer to at least $60 per day.

“I think we’re open to looking at changing the process,” said Trent Watson of the Missouri Association of Counties. “We need a little more help from the state.”

Counties also have to pay for the cost of health care for indigent prisoners. In some cases, counties are holding suspects who are, for example, pregnant or are undergoing kidney dialysis.

“That is a huge cost,” Watson said.

Callaway County Commissioner Gary Jungermann said some counties are hiring fewer deputies because of the financial pinch. At the same time, many counties are considering expanding their jails to deal with overcrowding.

Jungermann said the state could consider state-operated regional jails to house offenders who are picked up by the Missouri State Highway Patrol, rather than leaving that cost to the counties.

“County taxpayers are required to do the heavy lifting,” said Parrish, who is president of the Missouri Sheriff’s Association. “We feel like it has to be a partnership between us.”

By Kurt Erickson | stltoday.com

Some Counties, States Working to Keep Inmates on Medicaid

More local and state officials are working to ensure that low-income residents stay on Medicaid when they go to jail.

Federal law bars Medicaid recipients from accessing their full federal health benefits while incarcerated. But officials from both parties have pushed for two key changes to ensure little or no disruption of health benefits for pretrial detainees who have not been convicted of a crime and make up most of the 612,000 people held in America’s county jails.

In recent years, officials have increasingly implemented a stopgap measure to help inmates more seamlessly reactivate their Medicaid coverage upon release from jail or prison.

And a bipartisan coalition of county sheriffs, commissioners and judges are now lobbying federal lawmakers to change a long-standing policy and let pretrial detainees retain coverage while in custody.

The National Association of Counties and the National Sheriffs’ Association, which are supporting the effort, estimate that it would cost the federal government in excess of $3 billion a year.

“Just because you’ve been in jail for a short period of time, that shouldn’t automatically knock you off the (Medicaid) rolls,” David Davis, the Democratic sheriff of Bibb County, Ga., told Stateline. “You then have to go through enrollment all over again.”

Some county officials say the policy is discriminatory, allowing people who can post bond to retain their benefits, but denying coverage to indigent individuals. They also say the policy collectively burdens local and state governments with billions of dollars in additional health care costs.

Beyond that, some officials say the denial of federal health benefits to pretrial detainees disrupts inmate medical care, a key factor that can increase their chances of landing behind bars again.

“Jail is not a hotel stay, nor is it vacation,” said Brett Clark, Republican sheriff of Hendricks County, Indiana. “But this issue is a hurdle and a barrier for folks who need to get into treatment programs.”

Concern regarding what’s known as the Medicaid Inmate Exclusion Policy – which dates to 1965 – has grown as sheriffs, jailers and wardens have seen limited budget increases for a jail population that’s one of sickest and most vulnerable in the nation.

Once someone is booked in jail, city and county governments are required to pay for the costs of their health care until that person is released. If convicted, federal or state officials typically pick up the tab for medical treatment through the remainder of the sentence. But the disruption to medical care is linked to high risks of mortality, medication lapses and recidivism.

The only time inmates can use their Medicaid benefits is when a practitioner orders a hospital admission that lasts longer than 24 hours.

In a statement, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told Stateline it encourages states to shift from terminating Medicaid enrollment for pretrial detainees – which forces people to reapply after their release – toward suspending enrollment.

The number of states that suspend enrollment, making it easier for inmates to reactivate their Medicaid benefits, has more than tripled, from 12 to more than 40, during the past six years.

In Washington, sheriffs and police chiefs now provide booking data to the state’s health authority, which allows it to reinstate Medicaid coverage to returning residents automatically.

In New York, the state health department has applied for a federal waiver to reactivate inmate Medicaid benefits 30 days before their release.

However, 1 in 6 states – including Missouri and Wisconsin – still terminate Medicaid enrollment, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And reapplying can take weeks or months.

Officials in those states lack the technology to make similar changes, or, in some cases, misunderstand the exclusion policy, according to the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

But officials in some of those states, including Utah and Idaho, say they’re now transitioning to suspending enrollment instead of terminating and reactivating it.

“Medicaid has never been a popular program with our state policymakers,” said Karen Crompton, director of Utah’s Salt Lake County Human Services. “Now, some local officials are pushing Congress to make changes to the Medicaid Inmate Exclusion Policy.”

The issue of jail health care, aside from addiction treatment, was largely left out of the recent federal criminal justice changes – including the First Step Act, which broadly seeks to reduce recidivism, in part by increasing access to addiction treatment.

Last fall, four Democratic senators introduced legislation to prevent pretrial detainees from losing their federal health benefits. (A companion House bill is expected in the near future.)

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, one of the sponsors, told Stateline that the measure would help counties and states further combat the opioid and mental health epidemics, while also keeping law enforcement officers safer.

At least two Republicans – U.S. Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter of Georgia and U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana – have expressed concerns about the price tag potentially attached to the bill.

But some county officials from both sides of the aisle say such financial concerns are misguided, and, in some cases, are fueled by stigma against inmates.

“The federal government is getting a break here,” said Nancy Sharpe, a Republican county commissioner in Arapahoe County, Colorado. “These people are entitled and already on the rolls. Counties are instead picking up the cost for something the federal government should be paying for.”

Since the late 1970s, America’s 3,160 local jails have been required to provide “adequate” medical treatment to inmates, according to standards that emerged from the landmark ruling in Estelle v. Gamble and subsequent cases.

But the federal government doesn’t cover local jail or state prison health costs.

Greg Champagne, the Republican sheriff of Louisiana’s St. Charles Parish, said the federal policy denying pretrial detainees access to their health benefits violates their constitutional rights under the Fifth and 14th Amendments.

To understand why, the sheriff offered an example of two inmates arrested on charges of drunken driving. The one who has the money to make bail retains federal health benefits, but the second, who can’t make bail, loses those benefits.

“We shouldn’t treat someone differently because they don’t have the money for bail,” Champagne said.

A report from the National Association of Counties, which represents over 2,400 U.S. counties, notes that the Social Security Act prohibits Medicaid spending for “inmates of a public institution.”

But Blaire Bryant, an associate legislative director for the association, said the 55-year-old federal policy never distinguished between detainees who are still considered innocent and people who are convicted and sentenced to state or federal prison.

“Pretrial detainees, but for their housing status, would be still on their medical benefits,” said Bryant, who has led the group’s efforts to lobby to end the Medicaid exclusion for pretrial detainees. “And it places an unfair burden on jails.”

In a 2017 policy brief, University of Michigan researchers argued states and counties could apply for matching funds for Medicaid-covered services if the federal exclusion policy were repealed.

For decades, most states instead kicked anyone booked in jail who couldn’t post bond off their Medicaid rolls. Not only does this force pretrial detainees to use county-funded health care, which is typically more limited than their Medicaid coverage, it also disrupts care after release, Bryant said.

Local and state officials, recognizing this issue, have sought to reduce disruption upon release by suspending inmate participation in the federal health program. This bureaucratic tweak allows jails to help inmates approaching their release date to get their Medicaid reinstated faster.

Democratic Sheriff Jerry Clayton, who oversees the Washtenaw County jail in Ann Arbor, Michigan, devotes staff to help with the paperwork needed to re-enroll inmates near release.

Clark, the Hendricks County sheriff, said his staff’s effort to suspend Medicaid enrollment – and later reactivate it – can reduce the risk of recidivism and save taxpayer dollars.

Sharpe, the Arapahoe County commissioner, said current policy requires the county to spend nearly a quarter of its annual jail health care budget – $1.2 million – on pretrial detainees who lose access to Medicaid benefits.

Because Arapahoe, and not the federal government, covers this expense, inmates receive fewer services such as counseling and workforce training, Sharpe said.

Clayton in Washtenaw County budgets roughly $1 million for inmate health care each year. Of that, one-tenth is spent on pretrial detainees. But the sheriff says a single inmate booked with a serious medical condition – like someone in need of dialysis or HIV care – could potentially gobble up the full budget.

“If someone needs significant surgery, the hospital bill can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Clayton said. “We’re always one or two inmates away from blowing our budget. It’s an untenable position.”

Faced with growing awareness of the problem, Republican and Democratic local officials have turned to lawmakers in Washington, D.C., to change the Social Security Act to allow pretrial detainees to keep their federal health benefits.

The costs are “a burden to bear for rural and less affluent counties – areas that are predominately Republican,” U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon told Stateline. “The cost is a big issue, and the complexity of the administrative burden. I think both things will lead to Republican support.”

Despite the support for the bill from the county and sheriff associations, Clayton fears the lobbying effort over a potential $3.3 billion annual price tag will be a hurdle in getting the bill passed.

Helen Stone, a Republican commissioner in Chatham County, Ga., said that she’s repeatedly lobbied the office of her U.S. congressman, Carter, the Republican who has expressed concerns about the potential price tag, but has so far been met with “reluctance.”

Carter told Stateline that county officials must collect more data to provide him and other lawmakers with a fuller understanding of the issue’s national scope.

Cole Avery, a spokesman for Cassidy, the Louisiana Republican who expressed similar concerns, told Stateline that the senator is interested in a form of the policy that could make it to the president’s desk.

For that to happen, he believes a bill with a “narrowed scope” that focuses solely on mental health and addiction would have a better chance of advancing through the Senate.

Clark, for his part, said that stigma toward inmates, and the broader indifference toward investing in jail conditions, may dampen widespread support for the federal bill. Some Americans think that a “tough on crime” attitude requires a more punitive approach to inmates, he said.

“No sheriff sees this as weak on crime,” Clark said. “We see this as smart on crime. It’s always a challenge to see the big picture.”

Without changes at the federal level, Miami-Dade County Judge Steve Leifman said, counties will find little to no relief for rising jail costs, which will limit their ability to improve hospitals, roads and schools.

But several local officials told Stateline that legislation is only the first phase of the fight to change this policy. If the bill hits roadblocks in Congress, the county and sheriff associations may potentially file a lawsuit to challenge the policy’s constitutionality.

“What we’re doing now doesn’t make sense,” said Michael Adkinson, Republican sheriff of Walton County, Florida, which suspends Medicaid benefits. “It’s not saving money. It’s cost-shifting.”

 

By Max Blau | Stateline.org