County jail advice | Arkansas Blog

Monday, August 18, 2008

County jail advice

Posted By on Mon, Aug 18, 2008 at 9:19 PM

Thanks to Kathy Wells for a report on tonight's Pulaski County Jail task force meeting. Advice from a neutral third party lawyer: the city shouldn't be suing anybody for more money or to force acceptance of prisoners. But the state isn't paying enough for all the inmates it parks in the jail, forcing county officials to run repeat minor offenders through a revolving door. The city and county should seek a bigger reimbursement rate.

Details on the jump.

The conclusions were released this evening by the Pulaski County Regional Detention Facility Review Panel, at Alltel Bldg. #3. The Mediator and third lawyer on the panel, moderating the advocacy of city and county attorneys, Richard Massey of Alltel Corporation, delivered his conclusions in brief terms, and made no written report. He was not paid for his work. The meeting
was not recorded, although media reporters attended. The review panel originated last February in efforts by county officials to stave off a city lawsuit against the jail by city directors angry that some city prisoners are being turned away.

Massey covered four items in contention between city and county officials:
* the number of federal prisoners taken, which has been more than the Interlocal agreement of 1990 allowed.
* shifting the county medical expenses for inmates to UAMS, where inmates are treated, getting the state charitable budget to pay for inmate care.
* whether the sheriff is obligated to accept every city prisoner brought to the jail. and
* the disparity of pay to the county between the state and the federal rates. The county makes a profit on federal prisoners, but loses money on state prisoners.

Massey said filing a city suit against the sheriff to get all prisoners accepted would be "the dumbest thing you could do."

"It may be politically expedient, but it would not be very smart," Massey added. Officials had the option to agree with him, or not, he said, and they might spend five years in litigation, and perhaps get a different answer from his conclusion.

Massey said that state law gives discretion to the sheriff, and all officials, to perform their duties as they determine, and to decide when taking more prisoners would violate constitutional standards for jail conditions.

Instead, the community ought to focus on a jail too small for the population, solving funding problems, and making a mutual effort to solve the problems, Massey said.

He warned the room full of city directors, mayors, justices of the peace, business leaders, candidates and civic activists against shifting the medical expenses of inmates to UAMS. Massey said this could be done, but only for a short while. Then the state legislature could and would issue a policy change and cut that off, he said, leaving the county responsible for the inmate bills, and the state would still need to be asked for help on state funding for state convicts kept at the jail pending available space in state prisons.

"Think about the repercussions that could occur at the state Capitol," Massey appealed to the audience.  Overnight, the state could set a quota for local patients, he added.

That insufficient payment from the state is the "common enemy," Massey said. Pulaski County jail officials lose $30 a day for each state inmate, he said.

Sheriff Charles (Doc) Holladay of Pulaski County told the group that there were 137 state convicts in the jail today. He made no criticism of state officials for parking their convicts in the county jails around Arkansas, noting they were at capacity, and had to empty beds before taking convicts from his jail.

If the state, which has a surplus, paid $20 a day more, the budget would increase $1.1 million annually, and more beds could be opened, Holladay added.

County Attorney Karla Burney observed that if the state paid $30 a day more, the county jail budget would break even on its costs for inmate care.

Massey issued a pledge from Alltel Corporation, whose lobby corps he directs, to exert its influence to lobby the governor and state legislators to get that state payment to "what it ought to be." [Alltel may not exist by January, however, if a planned acquisition by Verizon is completed.]

With that achieved, he said, he would rely on local officials to "fill the rest of the funding hole," adding that he had seen officials "work magic" before when all worked together.

Massey agreed that the Interlocal Agreement limited to 20 the number of federal prisoners to be confined in the jail, but called the extra federal inmates "gravy" because payments exceed costs to the jail. If extra federal prisoners were to be removed, Massey cautioned, a funding hole would open.

Holladay said he had 50 federal prisoners in the jail currently, and  collected $56 a day for each. That's $ 2 million a year that would have to be made up somewhere, if  that number was to be reduced he said. He would have to cut back the number of beds, he added.

The sheriff said he had a population average so far this year of 930, with a budget for 880 beds, and that he was striving to lock up the most dangerous offenders.

Dir. Dean Kumpuris, who instigated the panel after a talk with Holladay, said he was satisfied with Massey's conclusions and would take his advice. He urged broad support to lobby the state to increase its jail payments, at least to counties with larger facilities and higher expenses.

Mayor Mark Stodola echoed the appeal, as did Holladay, who said this was a concern of the Ark. Sheriffs' Assn.

Massey gave his contact information, upon request:
Richard.Massey@alltel.com

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