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Jackson County's Crumbling, Overcrowded Jail Could Really Use That $2 Million Missouri Owes It

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3

It's already a challenge to run the Jackson County Jail. It's overcrowded and understaffed. Everything from the elevators to the plumbing needs fixing.

Now, add to that, the Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) is $1.7 million in arrears for housing state prisoners in the downtown jail, the most owed to any county in the state.

“Jackson County currently houses 800 or more inmates on behalf of the State of Missouri every day," Director of Corrections Diana Turner said in a statement. "Until the state pays on time and pays the actual cost of incarceration, much of the burden will continue to fall on Jackson County taxpayers and that’s unfortunate.”

The state DOC owes back payments to almost every county in Missouri, about $18 million all together.

According to state records, as of Jan. 5 the state owed:

  • Clay County $149,031
  • Cass County $183,638
  • Platte County $198,226
  • Jackson County $1,705,043
  • St. Louis County $1,373,124

Jackson County Legislative Chairman Scott Burnett says the state hasn't been a great partner.
“In general, we find the state is clamping back more and more each year and not paying us for the per diem for the prisoners is one of those examples," Burnett says.

In addition, the daily rate the state reimburses the county doesn't come anywhere close to covering the cost of housing an inmate, county officials say.

The state pays counties $22.58 a day per inmate. That, by the way, is eight cents more than what the state paid in 1998. Jackson County says it costs about $90 a day to house a prisoner in the downtown jail.

DOC says it inherited this massive back log from previous state agencies that were responsible for reimbursing county jails and says it's not sure how the whole mess was created.

However, part of the backlog can be blamed on how and when DOC can reimburse counties.

"The Department of Corrections receives about $10 million from the state on a quarterly basis," says spokeswoman Karen Pojmann. "We start at the front of the line and we pay out the reimbursements in the order received and we pay them until we run out of the $10 million and then have to wait until the next quarter to make the next round of payments.”

DOC has added staff dedicated to getting timely payments out to counties, according to Pojmann.

But the long term fix is to find ways to keep people out of prison with more mental health programs, better  probation and parole offices and greater use of electronic monitoring. “So we’re hoping to fundamentally change the way the whole system works so that we help to reduce prison population which would have the effect of also reducing the burden on county jails,” says Pojmann.

There are companion bills in the Missouri House and Senate that would address some of these concerns. Neither bill has been passed yet.

Sam Zeffis KCUR's Metro Reporter covering KCPD and the Jackson County Legislature. You can follow Sam on Twitter @samzeff.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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