Gov. Parson proposes millions in Missouri budget to cover county jail reimbursement debt

Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 8:55 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The state of Missouri wants to wipe out millions of dollars it owes to counties. It’s for holding inmates on state charges. The debt amounts to $58 million. Gov. Mike Parson wants it added to the state’s budget.

Until last month, Greene County was owed nearly $3 million for housing inmates charged with state crimes. Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon said the state made up seven payments in January, but there’s still about a $1 million balance.

Christian County Sheriff Brad Cole said Missouri owes Christian County nearly $300,000 for holding inmates on state charges.

“To say it’s a benefit for the county, it’s absolutely not,” Cole said.

Sheriff Cole said the state reimburses county jails for housing inmates who are accused of violating state law, once they are found guilty and sent to the Department of Corrections.

“They have a bill that needs to be paid, that we’ve been sitting on a long time now,” he said.

Cole said the state pays about $22 a day for each inmate, but the real cost is about $60 a day.

“We have to make those adjustments for those shortfalls to make sure we have what we need to provide a service to the citizens of the county and operate the jail and all the functions we do every day,” Cole said.

Greene County Commissioner Bob Dixon said the county has to pull money from its general revenue fund to make up for what the state doesn’t send.

“It really is a very small amount that we’re reimbursed for so most of that burden falls on Greene County taxpayers,” Dixon said.

The state recently made some payments to Greene County in January, but is still months behind.

“We have a system that is broken. It doesn’t function properly,” Dixon said.

Dixon suggested a system that includes set stipends and deadlines.

Rep. Crystal Quade (D-Springfield) said Missouri is the only state that has a reimbursement program like this.

“These reimbursements could potentially be incentives to keep people in jail longer before they’re getting hearings, etc. and also for guilty verdicts instead of plea deals for things that are lesser crimes,” Quade said.

Dixon said it could appear to be an incentive, but when payments are consistently behind, it hurts budgets.

Quade said the timing of this topic presents an opportunity to discuss the criminal justice reform she said Gov. Parson wanted to implement when he took office. She said one option could be to not pay county jails back for the time they held inmates before convictions, and only pay them for the days they hold inmates until they go to state prison.

She said, even though lawmakers want to consider adjusting the reimbursement system to keep this from happening again, they want to pay off the state’s debt first.

“When the state of Missouri is saying that we’re going to be paying somebody something, we need to be doing that,” Quade said.

Sheriff Cole said he is grateful lawmakers are considering the investment of reimbursing counties for what they’re owed.

“This is the first time that I’ve known of that we’ve had a governor that’s tried to make sure that these arrearages are paid and paid in a timely manner,” Cole said.

Quade said Gov. Parson not only requested $58 million to cover the reimbursement debt, but also proposed an additional $1 million for any more of that debt the state might accrue through the year.

Lawmakers will be looking at the state budget throughout the legislative session. The final budget is due in mid-May.

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