The state prison system spends three times as much to house a prisoner as the state pays counties to house prisoners facing state charges. But some lawmakers hope the situation might improve this year.

The Department of Corrections calculates it feeds inmates three meals a day for $2.48 a day per inmate. Director George Lombardi says it’s one of the lowest per-inmate meal costs in the country. But by the time the costs of medical care, industry and education programs, personnel, utilities, and other costs are figured in, the average daily cost of room and board for each of the 30,000-plus inmates is $56.81.

Former Polk County sheriff Mike Parson, now a state senator and a member of the appropriations committee, maintains, “The things that the state does is no different than the small county jail. You got to have people; you got to feed them; you got to doctor them.” He acknowledges the prison system has more programs for inmates but he says the state per diem payment of only $19 a day is well out of balance.

Counties used to get a few more dollars per day until the recession, when the per diem was cut to $19.s. Senate appropriations chairman Kurt Schaefer says counties don’t provide many of the programs the corrections department provides. But he thinks it’s time counties got more money to house state prisoners. He thinks 2014 will be the year the reimbursement is re-evaluated. Part of that decision will be made by the House of Representatives, which will write the first version of the state budget.