Legislature’s budget could help counties save money on holding state prisoners

The budget passed by the Missouri legislature this week aims to get the state caught up in payments to counties for holding state prisoners, and to give counties cheaper options for taking care of those prisoners.

Representative Kathie Conway (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

The budget includes more than $34-million to reimburse county jails that hold inmates on state charges until they are transferred into state custody.  Missouri statute calls for the state to reimburse each county $22.58 per day for every state inmate that county holds in its jail.  Missouri is about 6-months behind in those reimbursements according to House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob).

Out of that $34-million, counties can spend up to $5-million in state funds on alternative methods for tracking inmates – methods including ankle monitors or a smartphone app for monitoring of prisoners.

“There’s talk of, for super-low-risk offenders, potentially letting them out with an app on their phone – basically they’ll have to check in with facial recognition requirements and they have to check in however many times a day the court wants them to check in from their home,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick.  “It’s a riskier method but it’s also much less expensive and if we feel like somebody’s not a risk of fleeing or something like that, it’d be a low-cost option.”

“This is a chance for the state and the counties to save money up front, and hopefully start catching up with the reimbursements we owe the counties and keep costs down going forward,” said Representative Kathie Conway (R-St. Charles), the Chair of the budget subcommittee that deals with the Departments of Public Safety and Corrections.

“[The state only releases] $10-million per quarter [in county reimbursements], so if [a county gets] the money that’s fine, then you have  to wait for the n ext quarter to start getting reimbursed again.  There are a lot of counties out there that just can’t afford to do that,” said Conway.  “This $5-million also gives other counties the opportunity to use this GPS tracker system if they wish … if they can use this electronic tracking system for the cost of what one day [of holding a state prisoner] would be, they’re actually going to catch up with their arrears a lot sooner.”

Conway has also been working for several years to develop a similar program that will be launching as a pilot in Audrain, Montgomery, and Warren Counties.  It will use a bracelet similar to those people wear to track the number of steps they take each day, popularly known as a “FitBit.”

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

“It worked with [a smart phone app], and rather than the $12.50 a day that it costs for the ankle bracelet, this was around $15 to $20 a month.  People could be out on probation and every three minutes this would send a ping for GPS and the probation and parole officer would always know their location, could send them notification of court dates and different payments that were due,” said Conway.  “[We] set up a pilot program where it could be pre-conviction as well, and I think the significance of that is most of the cost for county jails to hold prisoners for the state came before the conviction.”

Counties could utilize that $5-million for any “alternative jail sanctions,” as these prisoner tracking options are being called, that don’t cost more than $12.50 per day.  If not all of the $5-million is utilized, it will roll back into the money used to reimburse counties.

The legislature voted to approve its budget proposal on Wednesday, two days ahead of its constitutional deadline.