Target 8: Jail Money

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JEFFERSON CITY - Not all convicted Missouri inmates run from the law, but most run up large costs for the state. Missouri is falling behind on those bills. 

Every day across Missouri, county jails hold inmates destined for Missouri Department of Corrections prisons. 

State law requires the DOC to reimburse the counties for housing, feeding and transporting those inmates if and when there is a conviction.

State is falling behind on payments

Karen Pojmann, DOC director of communications, stated in an email the department is approximately $19 million behind on those payments.

The state reimburses county jails $22.58 per inmate per day, for as long as they are held in the county jail.

Missouri only pays out reimbursements for inmates who are convicted of violating state law and transported to a DOC prison.

It does not give reimbursements for inmates who are acquitted or whose charges are dropped. 

The state gives the Department of Corrections roughly $10 million every quarter ($40 million per year) to pay reimbursements. Once the $10 million is spent, the department has no money to pay reimbursements until the next quarter. 

The bills are adding up.

Pojmann gave KOMU 8 News a snapshot of what the department owed every county as of January 5. The total unpaid reimbursements added up to over $14 million.

She said the snapshot did not account for reimbursements yet to be approved or filed. 

As of that date, the state owed Boone County Jail more than $543,000. It owed Cole County more than $100,000 and Callaway County more than $236,000.

Pojmann did not respond to multiple requests for an interview. 

Short budget, short staffed

The state reimbursements are used to fund facilities, resources or personnel for county jails.

Callaway County Sheriff Clay Chism said his jail is understaffed. Three or four corrections officers run a jail of approximately 85 inmates every day.

"In the hypothetical perfect world, which I wish would occur, I would have six corrections officers at any given time," he said.

Chism said the jail also needs more transport staff. Currently, one deputy handles all the inmate extraditions from Callaway County to jails across the state.

The deputy is responsible for transporting prisoners to court and doctor's appointments. 

Chism said the Callaway jail population is rising while his staffing has remained stagnant. 

The Council of State Governments Justice Center presented a 2017 report to the Missouri Justice Reinvestment Task Force, which was appointed by Gov. Eric Greitens in June of last year.

That report said the Missouri jail population increased approximately 50 percent from 2000 to 2015, to more than 10,000 inmates. 

"This is not just Callaway County, this is a predicament nearly every sheriff across the state of Missouri is facing," Chism said.

Backlog in the courts 

The council report cites backlogged courts for extended inmate stays in jail, which swell the population.

"We have inmates who are here for considerable lengths of time waiting for their court cases to make it through the judicial process," Chism said.

According to the report, the average time it takes for Missourians to be convicted and sentenced is 191 days. That is 10 percent higher than in fiscal year 2010. 

The report blames an under-funded public defender system. Over-worked public defenders with a larger caseload ask for delays to build a case.

According to the American Bar Association, public defenders need 47 hours per case. In Missouri, they get nine. The association said the state needs 300 more public defenders to reach acceptable levels. 

Missouri currently ranks 49th in public defender pay. The Missouri Public Defender Office went before the house budget committee in February to request a $30 million increase in funding.

Sounding the alarm and finding solutions

Callaway Commissioner Gary Jungermann spoke to the House Appropriations subcommittee on corrections in late January about the reimbursement issue.

He said the lawmakers were understanding, but his county needs a solution.

"We just don't have the money to keep throwing at the jails, because we've got other things we need to do for the citizens of the county," he said.

Callaway County officials estimate the daily cost of housing an inmate is more than $40, and the state reimbursement only covers about half of that at $22.58.

Jungermann said he wants there to be a conversation between commissioners and the state about repaying the debt and improving the system going forward.

Rep. Karla May, D-St. Louis, is the ranking minority member of the appropriations subcommittee on corrections. She said she supports increasing the funding for the Public Defender's Office and said the subcommittee has had positive conversations on the issue.

"Even with the budget chair, in these conversations, they've been favorable that we need to increase funding in the public defender's office," she said.

In December, The Council of State Governments Justice Center presented a set of recommendations to the task force on the corrections system.

Those recommendations included encouraging counties to streamline the reimbursement request process, growing release/diversion programs for jail inmates and improving state data collection on jails.  

Note on chart: The values displayed are the unpaid county reimbursement invoices as of January 5, 2018. The Department of Corrections may have paid and/or received more invoices since that date. The department pays its invoices in the order they are received.