Two area sheriffs say Missouri's compensation for holding prisoners facing state charges is not enough.
The state of Missouri pays counties $19.58 a day for food, housing and some medical care for inmates convicted of state crimes. At least two area sheriffs whose counties operate jails say that’s not enough.
According to Marion County Sheriff Jimmy Shinn, the state cut its level of compensation from roughly $24 to $19 two years ago.
“That was pretty detrimental. It’s a huge hit for all county jails. We feel as county sheriffs that it’s not right,” he said.
Pike County Sheriff Stephen Korte described the state’s level of compensation as simply being “better than nothing.”
It’s not uncommon for state fees to be accrued over years of time.
“If we have a defendant up there for murder, he may be in the county jail for two years until the case is disposed of. The county has to consume all that incarceration fee up until the time he is sent to the Department of Corrections,” said Shinn. “If he or she is acquitted of the crime the county is just out the money. We don’t get paid at all.”
The fee Shinn charges other counties is almost double what Marion County receives from the state.
“I don’t charge other counties less than $37.50 a day. We feel that’s breaking us even after we pay our detention officers, meals and all the stuff that it costs a day to incarcerate someone in our facility,” said Shinn.
The fee Marion County charges has not been changed since 2001.
“I know and understand the crunch that counties around us are in budget-wise. They can’t afford it either,” said Shinn.
According to the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association, it can cost a county at least $1,000 to hold a person charged with a state misdemeanor offense. Such a high cost can be incurred if the prisoner has a health issue that requires treatment.
“That’s another burden on local communities, taking care of detainees medically while they are in the county jail,” said Korte, who met with an interim House committee last November that was looking at issues affecting sheriff’s departments. “The reality of the situation is this, many people that commit crimes are in situations where they don’t necessarily lead the healthiest life. Once they’re in the custody of the county jail on a state charge, we have an obligation to provide them access to medical care.”
On occasion a county will seek reimbursement costs from a prisoner through the court system. According to Korte, that course of action is frequently not worth taking.
“My experience has been if people end up committing these felony crimes and go to prison, you’re not going to be able to get restitution out of them because in those situations they’ve been incarcerated, they don’t have a job, or things you can attach to to be able to get some kind of reimbursement out of,” he said.
State Rep. Galen Higdon, a Republican from St. Joseph, is chairman of a house committee on sheriff’s operations. He acknowledged that county taxpayers are bearing some of the cost for housing state prisoners.
Higdon says his committee will propose legislation this session to address compensation as well as several other issues for law enforcement agencies. He wouldn’t discuss specific recommendations until all committee members have approved a draft of the bill.
(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)