Washington County Sheriff Zach Jacobsen hopes the state will pay the nearly $66,000 it says his county is owed so that he can address things like staffing shortages, broken doors, electrical and plumbing problems. In a letter to Missouri counties, the state Corrections Department says funding and an invoicing backlog have led to $19 million in delayed payments to counties for jailing inmates who end up going to prison.
Missouri refunds counties a part of an inmate’s entire local jail stay if that offender goes to state prison – making Missouri unique among most or all other states.
Jacobsen, like most of his Missouri colleagues, face tight budgets, jail overcrowding, aging facilities and not enough staff. As a result, priorities have suffered. Fewer deputies are patrolling the 762 miles of roadway that his department covers.
“We’ve cut every cost we can, in order to provide the best patrols in the county that we can. But something at some point has to give,” Jacobsen said during an interview with Missourinet.
“When you’re literally dealing with a budget that is so thin, there’s not room for these issues,” said Jacobsen.
His 26-bed facility can often be found with about twice the number of inmates than beds, sometimes more. Jail officials do not have the ability to separate low-level offenders from violent offenders.
It also has leaky pipes and other plumbing issues that have created black mold. In a 124-year-old complex that already lacks space, the mold is so bad in some rooms that they can’t be used for their original purpose. Mold in an evidence room requires staff to enter the area with a mask on.
“I feel that the prisoners should not have to live with that,” said Jacobsen. “They’re still humans. Even if they’ve been convicted of a crime, they still deserve a clean and sanitary place to stay. If I can’t give them a safe environment, then I’m failing.”
According to Jacobsen, state statute says inmates can sue the sheriff for things like overcrowding or safety issues, not the county commission. He says he’s publicly addressed the jail’s problems many times. Jacobsen has lobbied for a tax increase to pay for a new jail, but the effort failed.
When the state pays up, Jacobsen emphasizes that the money will help but it won’t solve all of the problems he faces.
“There’s not an easy solution here. It’s not a fix all. This is not a Washington County problem,” he said. “This is a state of Missouri problem. This is a United States problem.”
The going rate for the state fiscal year’s county jail reimbursement is $22.58 per day. The figure fluctuates mildly from year to year depending on what the Missouri Legislature and governor approve.
The daily payout might make a dent but it does not cover the jails’ entire daily inmate housing costs. Taxpayers in those counties must cover the rest of the bill.
Current state law does not appear to outline a specific deadline as to when Missouri must pay its board bills by. The department says it has added two staff members to audit invoices.
Of the state’s 114 counties and the City of St. Louis, here’s a list of how much the state says it owes in jail reimbursements.