Jail Insider: How much does it cost local taxpayers to run a county jail?
When someone goes to jail, local taxpayers are responsible for each of that person’s basic needs, including food, clothing, shelter, and medicine. For many communities in the area, running the local jail is among their largest bills.
If you commit a crime in Baldwin County, you could find yourself doing time.
“You get people in here for identity theft, all different types of theft, burglaries, aggravated assaults, murder on occasion,” Maj. Lynette LaRocque with the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office said. “It varies, but I would say the majority of them are going to be for probation violation.”
LaRocque says the Baldwin County jail can house 326 people, but on average 138 inmates call it home. The sheriff’s office is responsible for their needs while they are incarcerated.
“The folks that come here we have to provide everything for them. They have no means to do anything,” Maj. LaRocque said.
That can be an expensive burden on taxpayers. It cost three million dollars last year to operate the jail. Maj. LaRocque says that is almost half of the agency’s budget. It comes down to about $30 a day to house one inmate.
“There’s so many different duties to correctly run a facility,” Maj. LaRocque said.
The sheriff’s office moved into the jail six years ago. Maj. LaRocque points out the new facility is almost double the size of the old jail and the agency increased the budget by only half a million dollars.
Majority of the costs go toward paying the 40 staff members who are in charge of booking and keeping an eye on the inmates at all times.
“At least once an hour you need to be in there. You will start having things broken for one, you’re going to have more crime within the dormitory if you’re not there,” Maj. LaRocque said.
Food costs are a huge budget line item.
“Our meals only run about $1.50 per meal. Well, you’re feeding them three times a day and you multiply that out and it gets up there to around $300,000,” the major said.
A growing expense is providing healthcare for inmates.
“We have both a legal, moral, ethical obligation to attend to their serious medical needs and their serious healthcare needs,” Beth Eubanks, the Health Services Administrator for the Baldwin County jail said.
Maj. LaRocque says the sheriff’s office spend $300,000 on medications last year. No matter the illness or condition of an inmate, Eubanks tells 41NBC taxpayers are required to pay the bill.
“If we have someone that is on HIV medicine, that medicine can run $2,200 [or] $2,300 per month,” Eubanks said.
Another big issue is treating mental illness.
“We definitely feel like we are the new mental health institution,” Eubanks said.
Maj. LaRocque says they used to send inmates with mental health needs to Central State Hospital in Milledgeville. Now that the campus is closed, the sheriff’s office spends about $100,000 a year just to get inmates to a facility for treatment.
“We do on average one transport everyday to some mental health facility to get folks help and it’s nowhere near here. A majority of them are in Augusta,” Maj. LaRocque said.
The cost to run a county jail can add up, but the major says that is a price every taxpayer needs to pay.
“What would you do if you didn’t have a jail? If you had someone who was violent or running around shooting people. What would you do with them? It’s just something you have to have,” she said.
Maj. LaRocque believes there are alternatives to jail that could help cut costs. Like if an inmate committed a minor crime, such as forgetting to pay child support. Instead of booking them in jail, put that person on house arrest. But that is the court’s decision.
“You’ve got to get your court system folks to be willing to allow it. If they allow it, hey we’re all for it,” Maj. LaRocque said.
The major adds if the state could find a solution to help inmates with mental health needs, that would also lift the burden on local taxpayers.
“We need some kind of relief and if the state could come up with closer facilities, maybe even privatize more the mental health facilities so the burden isn’t on the state, that would help tremendously,” Maj. LaRocque said.
Not locking people up is another way the sheriff’s office can keep costs low. Despite what some people may think, Maj. LaRocque says that is their goal.
“We don’t want them here. We know the liability and expense of that,” the major said. “I tell them all the time when they bond out, ‘Don’t come back. Don’t come back. I’ll see you on the street, just don’t come back.’”
Maj. LaRocque says about 90% of the inmates locked up will be incarcerated again.
41NBC wanted to find out the costs involved with running other Middle Georgia jails.
According to Col. Michael Scarbary with the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, the jail’s budget is a little more than $16.5 million. The sheriff’s office’s total budget is $48.7 million. The facility holds 966 inmates, but the average number is 885. Scarbary tells 41NBC, it costs about $51 a day to house one inmate.
Majority of the Bibb County jail’s expenses go toward personnel costs. There are 150 employees. Feeding and medical care are also major budget line items.
According to Maj. Alan Everidge with the Houston County Sheriff’s Office, the jail’s budget is $12.5 million a year. The facility holds 667 inmates, but the average number is between 460 and 470. Everidge says it costs about $61 to take care of one inmate.