EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a first in a series highlighting issues of jail overcrowding, potential options and citizens' concerns.

Within the continuing issue of overpopulation in the Madison County Detention Center, the county fiscal court proposed a property tax increase, which would more than double the rates in order to finance a new detention facility accommodating the steady rise in intake of inmates.

For many citizens, most question whether or not this is the only option, or most cost effective one for taxpayers.

The Register looked at the different options the county is pursuing along with the cost associated for each, to give readers a better understanding of finances and housing choices for inmates including the jail's current operations, contracted housing and a new jail.

Existing costs

For fiscal year 2019-2020, the fiscal court budgeted $4,119,887 for the MCDC finances alone, which has continued to rise over the past five years by more than $1 million.

According to Jailer Steve Tussey, the finances of the jail are dependent on the number of prisoners the county is responsible for, which as of Thursday, is 570 inmates. In house, the jail is holding 416 inmates in a 184-authorized bed count facility.

Of those, Tussey says that 40% of inmates are from the county, 40% are from the city Richmond and 20% are from Berea.

He said that, contrary to popular belief, the county jail does not accept inmates from other counties. Therefore, it receives no revenue or profit.

"We do not house other county inmates," Tussey said. "We do not accept federal inmates either, simply because we do not meet the criteria in order to do so."

The MCDC does however have around 25 to 30 state inmates in house for a compensation rate of $31.34 per inmate, per day, but Tussey says that he tries desperately not to accept them as it takes up more county beds.

"I have begged the judicial family as I call them, the judges and law enforcement heads, to please cite people if they can, don't bring them to jail," he said. "Judges, if you have alternative sentencing, please use it, don't send them to jail, do anything you can do besides send them to the jail."

Another common misconception from citizens is that the jail could free up space by releasing non-violent offenders for charges such as marijuana possession or failure to pay child support, but according to Deputy Jailer Tom Jones, the jail tries to detain them for the least amount of time possible.

"It's not the DUIs, it's not possession of marijuana or the petty thefts, these are the people that have committed felonies at this point," Jones said.

Contracted Housing

Contracted inmate housing, in which inmates are housed in other counties in order to keep the bed count lower in the detention center, is the budget's most recently introduced line items as well as the most expensive.

Both Tussey and the county's treasurer, Glenna Baker, agreed this line item alone will exceed their approved budgeted amount of $400,000 by more than $600,000 or even $1 million.

Depending on the county an inmate is housed, prices range from $28 to $40 dollars per inmate, per day with an average rate of $30.

According to the jailer, to house 100 prisoners in other county jails would cost the county around $1 million annually. As of Thursday morning, 126 inmates under the responsibility of MCDC are being housed elsewhere. At an average rate of $30 daily for 126 inmates, the jail is paying more than $26,000 weekly.

Of those inmates, they are spread across 12 counties, with the farthest being Fulton County which touches the Mississippi River.

"We are really running out of options," Tussey said. "Our jail has all that it can hold, we're almost done. If we book an inmate, we are going to transport an inmate somewhere. I am running out of places to send those inmates."

If the jail were to close their facility entirely to only use contracted housing, the price associated would be a $7 million cost to taxpayers each year.

With talk of a new $45 million jail bonded out over a course of 20 years, annual payments for the bond would cost around $4 million yearly.

If the county opted not to construct a new facility and continued the status quo of housing and contracting out inmates, it would total nearly $140 million over the next 20 years, according to county officials.

New Jail

The idea of a new facility was first introduced to the county fiscal court in 2012, and reintroduced this year with designs that would cost a total of $45 million with a 20-year bond. With included interest, it would cost about $80 million.

In building a new facility, the county would hope the fiscal court would approve an 800-bed detention center, which could accommodate 960 inmates legally with floor space, with hopes of generating revenue by accepting both state and federal prisoners as well as substance abuse program (SAP) participants.

However, design plans for a new facility features another construction option, that allows only 600 beds -- a number the county has almost reached -- but would not have the potential of acquiring revenue.

According to county officials, this would be because the 600-bed facility would not be approved for federal prisoners or SAP participants. State inmate housing would be limited, due to lack of bed space.

If the county did approve the new 800-plus bed facility, costs to operate and expand the jail would total more than $12 million. This price includes the principal payment of the bond, interest and operations to continue current housing and expansion.

To help cover the costs of operations, the new jail would have the potential to add a revenue stream through housing federal, state, SAP participants and fees with a projected revenue of $6,651,320 leaving a cost to the county of roughly $5.5 million.

Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter at @TaylorSixRR.

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