The Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) has dropped about six months behind in county jail reimbursements. Spokesperson Karen Pojmann says prior to November 2016, the state lacked appropriate review of its jail payment process, leading to uncertainty in how a $19 million shortfall accumulated.

Missouri falls six months behind in paying county jail bills

“In recent months, we have dedicated staff to auditing all of the requests for reimbursements that come in and doing a better job of record keeping. So we’re trying to catch up with that deficit,” Pojmann said during a Missourinet interview. “It’s possible, in the past, human error, duplication of requests, etc., have led to us paying out more than we actually paid them.”

Governor Eric Greitens, R, was sworn into office in January.  He replaced the term-limited Jay Nixon, a Democrat. Nixon served as the state’s CEO for eight years.

Pojmann said during department auditing, employees found about $6 million in differences between what counties requested and what the state actually paid them.

To try and prevent errors, Pojmann said the department now checks on prisoner records, including their conviction date and trial outcome. It also examines the calculations submitted by counties and verifies if any duplicate forms have been submitted. Counties must also use an online payment submission form with additional instructions.

In a letter last month to counties, the department also said current funding levels and reimbursement schedules combined with a pre-existing backlog of approved invoices have led to a delay of paying newly approved invoices. Additionally, errors and missing documentation slow the auditing process and could result in delayed payments.

Pojmann says all invoices are paid in the order in which they are received, creating further delay for counties that infrequently submit invoices. During the current fiscal year, about $40 million is being given to the department in quarterly allotments of $10 million. The agency then repays counties within 10 business days.

“Once the $40 million has run out, then there’s no more money for reimbursements,” she said.

Pojmann said she’s not sure when the next round of reimbursements will go out. The state’s new quarter began October 1.

Time is of the essence for many Missouri counties. Like many jails around the country, Missouri’s county jails deal with strapped budgets, overcrowding issues, aging facilities, fewer staff and deputies patrolling the streets.

What sets Missouri apart from other states is that it could be one of the only states in the nation that repays counties a portion of an inmate’s entire lockup time if the offender goes to state prison. The going rate for the state fiscal year’s county jail reimbursement is $22.58 per day. The figure varies slightly from year to year depending on what the Missouri Legislature and governor think the state can swing.

The daily payout scratches the surface in jails’ entire daily inmate housing costs. Taxpayers in those counties must pay the rest of the tab.

A task force formed by Governor Greitens is trying to find ways to address the state’s rising prison population and the financial burden it has on taxpayers. Missouri has about 34,000 state prisoners at a cost of about $20,000 per inmate annually.

The task force could be considering a different way of choosing which defendants must be in a county jail before their court trial and which ones can be freed without jeopardizing the public’s safety. If the idea becomes a reality in the Show-Me State, the move could alleviate some budget pressure felt by the state and counties.

A common theme that seems to resonate among many state officials is that Missouri should not build another prison. The state currently operates 22 institutions across Missouri.

Read earlier stories:

(VIDEO) State owes counties $19 million in jail payments; Missouri sheriff feels the pain

Is Missouri sending the right people to prison?