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IT'S YOUR MONEY: Taxpayers Cover Cost of Housing Inmates

Posted: May 16, 2013 8:28 AM by Emily Spain
Updated: May 16, 2013 9:24 AM

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COLE COUNTY - Thanks to your tax dollars, the doors at county jails stay locked. The county operation keeps local criminals off the streets and away from your family.

"Constitutionally what our jails are designed to do, is to detain those people that are either a flight risk or someone that is dangerous to the community," Cole County Sheriff Greg White said.

However, your safety comes at a price. Boone County jail administrator Warren Brewer said the county works its best to keep the cost to taxpayers down. Right now, the county speends more than $4 million every year to house an average of 200 inmates. Break that down, taxpayers spend $59.63 to put one criminal in jail for one day, which covers inmates' meals, medical care and shelter. Brewer said that also covers maintenance fees and building depreciation.

"Payroll is your biggest expense, but I just think we do a good job for the money," he said. He added that Boone County wants to keep salaries for county employees competitive in order to attract good workers.

Cole County Sheriff Greg White said his county's taxpayers spend more money than Boone County per day per inmate, partly because of its brand-new jail. Cole County residents pay closer to $70 per inmate per day. Like Brewer, White stands behind that cost.

"Based on the new structure and still feeling through staffing, we feel that that's probably the absolute best that we can do at this point," White said.

It costs Boone County and Cole County the most to lock up bad guys compared to other counties in our viewing area, but they're also home to two of the largest jails in mid-Missouri. I

"I don't see medical prices going down in the future," White said. "You've seen the increase in grocery prices, all of that gets passed on to the inmate population as well."

There are measures in place to pay back counties, but it doesn't always happen. The state pays county jails back about $20 for the time state-sentenced inmates are housed there, but that's still less than half of what it costs to house them.

"I think the big issue for most sheriffs across the state of Missouri is we wish the state would pay the actual cost, we understand that they have budget constraints like everyone else," White said.

It is law for inmates to pay their dues to jails for the time they spent locked up, but Brewer explained the county won't find any money there.

"Most of them don't own property, they don't have a good job or they don't have a job at all and we would expend more I think...in trying to get money back then we would actually obtain in doing so," Brewer said.

Missouri lawmakers are discussing a bill this session to try and help repay county jails. Senate Bill 42 would keep former inmates from getting lottery winnings, tax refunds and recreational licenses until they pay jails back for their stay. The bill is sponsored by Republican Senator Brian Munzlinger and is currently in conference with Friday being the last day in the 2013 session.

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