County: nearly $290,000 spent on inmate housing this year

Lola Mitchell works at the Madison County Jail.

Madison County spent nearly $290,000 in the first six months of this year to house inmates in other counties, according to County Clerk Faron Ledbetter.

Through the end of June, the county had spent $289,604 this year to house inmates in Washington and Carroll counties. Madison County is charged $62 a day per prisoner in Washington County and $35 a day in Carroll County.

The Madison County Jail in Huntsville operates as a 24-hour holding facility. After that, inmates are taken to either Washington County or Carroll County. Those facing misdemeanor charges can be released on a citation.

Ledbetter said the cost of transporting those inmates is no longer calculated on a yearly basis. The last year numbers were kept was 2015, when the county spent $11,593.88 on overtime, gasoline, mileage and other expenses involved with the transportation.

Madison County Judge Frank Weaver said last week that the total cost to house inmates in Fayetteville has increased in recent months, for sure.

“It has raised in the last couple of months, but we’ve seen it fluctuate in the past,” he said. “I don’t think it’s time to panic just yet or anything. We’ll see what the next couple of months does.”

Weaver is part of a working group being formed to study the possibility of building a jail in Madison County. The group will include politicians, judges and others.

“We haven’t completely filled out that working group,” he said. “That’s going to take time to get those kinds of people in there. Then there’s going to be a lot of fact-finding once that gets in place.”

Weaver said the next couple of months will require keeping a close eye on the costs to house inmates elsewhere.

“We’ll see whether it shows any fluctuation, up or down or holding steady, then we’ll reevaluate it at that time,” he said.

The City of Huntsville spent $18,729 to house inmates elsewhere in the first six months of 2018, according to City Clerk Janice Smith. That figure a year ago was $14,552.

Huntsville Police Chief Todd Thomas – who said he had just received an invoice for another $1,100 in fees – said budgeting for inmate transfers is difficult.

“We can only forecast it as best we can,” Thomas said last week. “We know what we’re going to pay, but we don’t know how many people we’re going to arrest a year.”

The city pays for placing inmates in other counties until a person is actually charged by a prosecutor, then the pay shifts to the county, Thomas said.

“We pay on any arrest we make until and if the charges are felonies or federal,” Thomas said. “Once the prosecutor actually formally files felony charges ... at that point, that’s when we cease paying for those inmates.”

Thomas said his department tries to keep some people arrested out of jail.

“We spend a lot of time analyzing, if you will, the history of the individuals we incarcerate,” he said. “If it’s a first-time offense and it’s a hot-check warrant, we do our best to work with the court in getting that person an expedited court date and try to get them in the court system and not actually incarcerate them.”

Thomas said felony arrests and those deemed as habitual offenders will be locked up.

“Obviously, if we have habitual offenders that just don’t learn their lesson, we incarcerate them,” Thomas said. “Anything narcotic related, any type of violent violation, anything alcohol related, those are automatically incarcerated. We don’t babysit those people.”

In February, Weaver discussed the situation of rising costs with members of the Madison County Quorum Court.

“It’s going to get serious here before the year’s out, for us especially,” Weaver told the court about the rising cost of sending inmates to other counties.

The county has budgeted about $492,000 for housing inmates elsewhere in 2018, but Weaver said the actual cost could be between $540,000 and $600,000.

Madison County Sheriff Rick Evans said last week that sending inmates elsewhere is mandatory.

“I don’t have a choice. Just having a holding facility here actually helps us,” Evans said. “We can keep people [at the Madison County Jail] short-term or eight or 10 hours ... we can keep them here, which that’s a big help.”

Still, Evans said sending inmates facing felony charges to other counties is the only option.

Another problem developing is that surrounding counties are running at or near capacity. When those jails are full, Madison County will have no where to send its inmates.

Only 10 spots are available in Carroll County, unless they are needed for local inmates there. Evans said only once has Carroll County said it could not take Madison County inmates.

“We’re just trying to survive until we get everything squared away,” Evans said.

Voters in Madison County have three times voted down a tax to build a new jail. Evans told the court in February that the county has between 45 and 55 inmates housed elsewhere on any given day.

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