Chris Uggen's Blog: the pains of (short-term) imprisonment

Friday, September 19, 2008

the pains of (short-term) imprisonment

corrections costs are bringing minnesota county commissioners to revolt. as both the strib and pioneer press report, counties are now shouldering an increasing share of the costs of incarcerating short-term inmates. it may seem like a wonky issue but any cost shift from the state to local counties is a potential budget-buster in these times. from the strib:

As more than 100 county commissioners from across Minnesota stood on the steps of the State Capitol, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and state legislators came under heavy criticism Thursday for forcing counties to pay the increasing cost of housing short-term offenders. The rally came as the Association of Minnesota Counties complained that requiring counties to take certain state prisoners -- the result of a 2003 deal to balance the state budget -- has led to rising numbers of inmates in county jails and dwindling reimbursements from the state to pay for housing them.

and the pi press:

"It's nothing more than an old-fashioned shell game, where the money is sliding back and forth," Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner said. "But nobody is fooled here, nobody at all." The daily reimbursement is expected to drop from $27.24 this year to $9 next year, while the actual daily cost of jailing a short-term state offender ranges from $55 to more than $100, depending on the facility and transportation costs. Those figures don't include medical costs.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, blamed the Republican governor for the cost shift. Democrats have long fingered Pawlenty's efforts to hold down state taxes as the culprit for rising local property taxes. County officials said jail costs are fixed and they might have to cut other services to keep up.

yeesh. the association's presser puts the issue more succinctly:

County Commissioners to Lawmakers, Governor:
"Reform the Way You Do Business or You Can Have Your Felons Back"
Local governments tired of using county jails as make-shift prisons; seek responsible reforms and flexibility in serving the public


At 4:32 PM, Blogger Brad said...

Actually the real story...

The 2001 legislature directed the commissioner of corrections to report on alternatives for dealing with offenders who actually serve less than one year in prison (the prison population was really growing). In 2003 the Minnesota Department of Corrections reported back to the legislature with the following recommendations:
* Amend M.S. §609.105 (Sentence of Imprisonment), Subdivision 1, to read: A felony sentence to imprisonment for more than one year shall commit the defendant to the custody of the commissioner of corrections. Any offender whose remaining term of imprisonment is six months or less shall not be committed to the commissioner of corrections.
* It is also recommended that the legislature address additional costs incurred by the counties as a result of any guidelines’ initiatives that have the effect of increasing the number of offenders sanctioned at the local level.

The 2003 legislature implemented the first recommendation, but never fully addressed the additional costs incurred to counties. It was reimbursing at a rate of $9-10 per day In 2006, the appropriation was tripled ($30/day) for a short time, then last year the legislature cut it back again to $9-10 per day.

2003 was a tough year, they moved the offenders to county jails as recommended by the DOC, but the funding did not follow.

It's actually kind of funny, the subsequent reports evaluating the issues surrounding holding short-term offenders in county jails (they get less services) are much longer than the original recommendations.

This kind of cost shifting drives county commissioners nuts.


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