Jail officials compiling inmate costs for state reimbursement

Sharna Johnson

The state is paying less than the costs its inmates incur at the Curry County jail based on recent calculations by jail administrators, who are trying to compile data to get reimbursed.

In one quarter last year — from January to April 2010 — the cost of housing 19 inmates locally for the state was $118,000, according to a report jail administrators recently sent the corrections department.

In fiscal year 2010, state records show the state estimated the cost of those prisoners to Curry County would be more than $1 million for the year, but only paid $152,450 because its almost $4.6 million legislative fund had to be divided among all county jails in the state.

County Finance Manager Mark Lansford said the Department of Corrections also pays about $125,000 a year from a separate department fund toward the care of inmates.

Lansford said the remaining bulk of the jail’s costs come from the county.

Jail Administrator Keith Norwood said his staff compiled the statement a little more than a month ago to show the state how money it gives the county is being spent and to aid in determining what the county will receive next year.

“We tell them this is how many inmates we had; this is how much it costs and they look at the figures and they either increase or decrease (our reimbursement),” Norwood said.

“That’s something the state has to look at … everything (costs) goes up so hopefully it will stay the same or go up.”

Norwood said though that is the only quarter calculated so far by his staff — who are going back through records to tabulate data that hadn’t been looked at — he would expect other quarters to be similar.

If correct, it would translate to the state paying about 42 percent of the costs its inmates actually cost the county in 2010.

“What we’re doing is we’re making a concerted effort to make sure they are aware that we do have their inmates in there and that we’re holding them and that they do cost us money,” Norwood said.

“Once they review Curry County’s statistics hopefully they will increase the amount of money they give us.”

But Norwood said he still lacks confidence in the numbers being generated for reports because since the jail has gone without a software system upgrade, his staff have to generate data by hand.

“I’m worried (but) I believe once we get software that’s compatible with what we’re trying to do we should be in pretty good shape,” he said.

For those inmates viewed as belonging to the DoC — parole violators or inmates waiting for transfer to state facilities — the state pays the county a set disbursement each year.

Lansford said in January, the state paid $253,649 for this year’s housing costs, about $60,000 more than the year prior.

The payment accounts for about 9 percent of the county’s $4.2 million jail budget this year.

The payments are made on behalf of the state sentencing commission under the 2007 County Detention Fund Reimbursement Act which is designed to offset the cost of housing probation and parole violators.

The corrections department also has a cushion fund to help with county costs that exceed the lump sum payments made to them, according to DoC spokesman Shannon McReynolds.

Billing for state inmate costs hasn’t taken place because of the jail’s software issues, Norwood said, but staff are working to compile data.

“It wasn’t (being done) because of the jail management (computer software) system (the jail had). I don’t think it had the capability. It’s time consuming (to do manually),” he said.

“Once they examine all the money they give us then we can start charging them.”

Norwood said the county is also working with the courts to try and schedule regular weekly hearings so judges can review the cases of some of those inmates held on technical violations — such as going into an establishment that serves alcohol, failing a drug test or not being where they’re supposed to be — to see if they could be released.

However a portion of them are charged with new crimes and can’t be released until their cases get through the system, he said.

In March, county officials announced the jail had since 2005 failed to properly submit application for reimbursement for housing inmates who are eligible for Social Security benefits.

Only able to back-file for 90-days of the missed money, the program pays $400 a month per qualified inmate.

County officials have cited security concerns at the facility, a growing population and increased expenses as reason for needing of a new facility.

Bond issues for $32 million from tax increases aimed at building a new jail and courthouse were defeated by voters Nov. 2.