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Commissioners take hard look at jail issues
Steven Helton.jpg
Warren County commissioners have begun the process of delving into jail issues.

The County Corrections Partnership Committee met for its first look at the situation. The look was literal as members toured the jail.

State inmates, who are convicted felons who are given more than 11 months, 29 days in jail, or given split confinement, were addressed.

“As of today, we have 58 state inmates,” said Commissioner Steven Helton, committee chair. “Is the $39 a day the state is giving us actually paying off, or are we shooting ourselves in the foot? Do you know what it costs to house an inmate each day?”

In attendance were Warren County Sheriff’s Department Major Jason Walker, Chief Deputy Bo Ramsey and jail supervisor Lt. Jackie Rackley.

It was estimated the cost is around $59 a day, but jail officials weren’t sure of an exact figure.

By county records, keeping state inmates at $39 per day, per inmate, generated $903,096 in revenue in fiscal year 2017-18.

The actual expense is unknown. However, using the $59 estimate, the expense would be approximately $1.36 million.

“During the presentation by Bob Bass, he said we have not asked to get rid of those inmates,” said Helton. “Is that true? Are we trying to ship the 58 state inmates out of here since they are costing us an additional $20 a day?”

Ramsey stated, “There are some we are trying to transfer. There are revenues beyond what the state pays us, like commissary and telephone, which bring in additional revenue for the general fund. We’re trying to, as a new administration, look into that and assess that to see exactly where that number sits.”

Commissioner Carl D. Bouldin says housing state inmates is not profitable and those are the inmates causing the most damage to the jail.

“You’re stepping over dollars to get to quarters, in some instances,” said Bouldin. “I don’t see how housing state inmates for profits will ever work. I really don’t. Jackie told us over two or three meetings that state inmates are doing most of the damage. Nonviolent criminals aren’t the ones tearing up the jail.”

Helton recommended that administration remove state inmates to ease the burden of overcrowding at the jail.

“I know we aren’t going to get rid of all state inmates, because more will come in as soon as we ship out some, but we have a population of 312 inmates,” Helton said. “If we ship out those 58 state inmates, we would be at 254. That puts us within three of our bed population. Does that mean we could get those inmates off the floor and into racks?

Rackley stated, “Yes.”

Helton commented that overcrowding puts stress on all aspects of the jail – staff, maintenance personnel, and the inmates, who then retaliate by being destructive. He recommended the county remove as many state inmates as possible and focus on the ones who remain.

Sheriff Tommy Myers was unable to attend the meeting, but Walker says the sheriff is examining the state inmate issue and is willing to do what’s best.

Bouldin added, “If we’re spending $1.3 million out here and getting $900,000 back from the state, those numbers don’t add up. It’s costing us $400,000 more than we are receiving in revenue. If you get rid of the state inmates, you are saving the county money overall. Plus you are getting rid of the inmates who are causing the most damage to the jail.”

Also discussed was the need for additional staff, renovation of the existing facility, offering programs to rehabilitate inmates, and additional space and staff that will be needed to offer programs.

The educational session was in excess of two hours.