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Jail costs continue to go up

Continuing increases in jail population and high fuel and medical costs have all led to increased spending in the Harrison County Sheriff’s Dept. by $120,000 for the rest of the year.
The increase includes $40,000 for food, $20,000 for fuel and $60,000 for medical costs. That’s what the department expects to spend over and above the amount budgeted for 2005, said Capt. Bruce LaHue, corrections officer for Sheriff G. Michael Deatrick.
The county council unanimously approved LaHue’s request on behalf of the sheriff at its appropriation meeting last month, along with increases to cover other fuel increases in other county departments.
All the funds will come from riverboat revenue.
A breakdown of inmate criminal charges compiled by LaHue shows methamphetamine-related crimes account for 22 percent of the jail population; drunk driving, 21 percent; theft, 20; battery, 10; drugs other than meth, 8; driving offenses other than drunk driving, 5; sex crimes, 4; murder and attempted murder, 1; and other miscellaneous crimes, 8 percent.
Several steps have been taken to hold the line on spending, but costs have gone up mainly due to increases in the number of inmates, now projected at 28 percent more than a year ago. That, in turn, calls for increased food and medical care expenses, LaHue said. Medical expenses are expected to go up by 10 percent over 2004.
The price of fuel for police cruisers has also increased substantially since the budget was set in mid-2004 for 2005.
For example, in mid-2004, low-grade unleaded gas cost almost $1.90 a gallon at the pump compared to an average of $2.50 this August. In September, prices of more than $3 per gallon were not unusual. Although the county doesn’t pay that much because gasoline is purchased in bulk and taxes are not included, the amount has risen proportionately, LaHue said.
The cost of holding inmates for other counties and/or the state include spending for food, which is reimbursed by those counties or the state at the rate of $35 per day. Medical expenses are also reimbursed, but neither the room and board or medical payments are reflected as income to offset spending in the sheriff’s budget.
That money is deposited, by law, in the county general account as miscellaneous income. As of July, the county has been reimbursed $37,240 for medical expenses and received $90,335 in room and board payments for 2005.
Last year, the county received room and board payments totaling $204,505, and reimbursement for medical bills of $26,682, according to the auditor’s records.
As announced earlier, LaHue said steps are being taken to minimize medical costs. Inmates who had been receiving narcotic drugs for pain following tooth extractions no longer get the drugs; sleeping pills and anxiety medications have also been stopped.
LaHue said he and the sheriff are continuing to discuss ways to correct medical problems when smokers are locked up and taken off nicotine ‘cold turkey.’
‘Nicotine patches may be a cheaper solution than an anti-depressant,’ he said. ‘We are continuing to look at this and continuing to talk to the doctors about it.’
Allowing inmates to smoke, LaHue said, presents a couple of concerns. First, the jail structure is not combustible, but materials used in the jail are. Books and papers could be set on fire.
‘We’re letting inmates keep too much combustible stuff,’ LaHue said. And if inmates become angry ‘and decide to riot, the first thing they do is set stuff on fire.’
Another reason for the smoking ban is second-hand smoke. Even though most of the inmates are smokers, they would have to be kept segregated from non-smokers. ‘We’ve been kicking around the idea of controlled smoking outside,’ LaHue said. ‘It just doesn’t work that well.’
The officers are taking other measures to reduce costs. For instance, jail inmates are currently allowed 16 hours of TV and telephone use a day as an incentive for good behavior. Now inmates who are on medication who are housed in the same cell pod as inmates who don’t get prescription drugs have been segregated to keep them from trading pills for commissary or other items. And those inmates who have been moved to a medical pod get only eight hours of TV or phone use a day.
‘They are sick,’ LaHue said. ‘They need the rest.’
Several inmates have asked to discontinue the medication so they can return to a regular pod, LaHue said.
But some things, though, won’t be the same. LaHue said classic cable service has been lowered to basic, meaning 22 less movie channels. ‘They had more TV channels than I had at home,’ LaHue said.
He said even though the cable bill is paid from inmates’ payments into the commissary fund, the savings can be put to better use in the jail. The change will result in a $4,352 savings a year, he said.