Jail costs take wind out of Boyle budget

September 07, 2004|LIZ MAPLES

As Boyle County Fiscal Court considers how it will deal with its dwindling budget and high demand for services, magistrates have begun to look at the numbers.

The Boyle County Detention Center draws the most attention in budget discussions. Magistrates question every tooth pulled and dollar spent.

At one time, the jail was a money-maker, but in the past two years the county has had to supplement the facility.

Judge-executive Tony Wilder points to the loss of juvenile inmates as one of the major causes of the problem.

When Boyle and Mercer counties built the jail, it was thought that the money other counties paid to house juveniles, $100 per juvenile a day, would pay for the cost of housing local inmates.

The joint jail was averaging about $400,000 a year from juvenile detainees.

Kentucky started a regional juvenile detention center system. Boyle and Mercer juvenile inmates are now sent to London.


The Department of Juvenile Justice said that while some counties, like Boyle, may have lost money, others are saving by not paying the high per diems.

"The question is, 'Is it fair for some counties to make money while others lose, or is it fair to have all counties not pay to house juveniles?" said DJJ spokesman John Hodgkin. "I don't think that juvenile detention is the money maker that counties think it is."

The cost of housing juveniles is higher than that of adult inmates because of strict regulations and education requirements.

Hodgkin said that the statewide system also brought Kentucky up to federal regulations. Before, it was one of only two states that weren't up to par.

That doesn't erase the problems for the Boyle County jail. It is left with an unsecured side that was built for juveniles and now can only house state inmates.

Still, there isn't empty space.

"Crime costs. Crime's up, and it's not going down," Jailer Barry Harmon said. "The jail is full, and when I say that I mean that people are sleeping on the floor."

215 inmates in jail built for 156

There are 215 inmates at the Boyle jail. It was built for 156. When they run out of beds, inmates are given mats to put on the floor.

The secured side of the jail is filled with county inmates, and there is no room for more profitable federal prisoners, which pay $30 -$45 a day, plus all medical bills. Both require secured space.

Some state inmates, however, can work outside the jail, and they staff the recycling center and work in Junction City, Perryville, Harrodsburg and at the Danville cemeteries.

The county estimates that if it hired labor at minimum wage to do the jobs that inmates have done it would have cost $500,000 last year.

It cost the county $31.65 a day to feed, bed and care for an inmate. There are some state inmates at the jail, but the state only reimburses the county $26.51 a day.

Besides that loss there are other growing expenses at the jail.

The cost to feed inmates was $20,000 more last year. County officials said that it isn't a jail anomaly, food just costs more and there are more mouths to feed. Each meal is $2.50, and inmates have to be fed three meals a day, meals that meet nutritional guidelines.

Jail cooks say that they look for deals, ham or chicken on sale, but still the cost of meat, milk and all groceries has gone up.

Harmon once asked magistrates if he could start an inmate garden to defray the cost of food, but a suitable location was never found.

Linens and clothes have to be laundered twice a week. A 5-gallon bucket of detergent at $40 lasts just four days.

Deputy salaries were $145,000 more than last year because three-and-a-half more positions had to be added. The county was told by an outside consultant that it wasn't safe to run the jail without the extra staff.

Fringe benefits, such as liability, health and worker's compensation insurance, cost more last fiscal year because there are more employees and more employees staying longer at the jail.

In years past, quick turnover at the jail meant that many employees didn't stay long enough to get fringe benefits, but now that many are staying longer, which is good for the jail, the cost has gone up. Those benefit costs exceeded last year's by $150,000.

Then there are the inmate medical costs, which are one of the most closely scrutinized by magistrates.

$70,000 in medical bills

The county had $70,000 in medical bills for Boyle inmates. The state pays $1.91 a day for its inmates' medical expenses, but costs exceeded that by $30,000 this year.

Inmates are not allowed non-essential procedures, but only life-threatening treatment. Teeth are pulled; not filled. No narcotics. No visits to the optometrist for glasses.

Magistrates question medical bills every month. Wilder and Harmon have said that they must err on the side of caution because there are laws that protect inmates' rights.

Still, the county says that it is better off with a jail than it would be without one. The cost of transporting people from jail to court and back again would quickly add up.

Harmon has looked for ways to save money where he can.

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