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Jail costs skyrocket

The Middle Peninsula Regional Security Center (MPRSC) in Saluda, located behind the new county courthouse.

by Larry S. Chowning

Middlesex County supervisors learned Tuesday there is a $140,000 over-run in the current fiscal year for the cost of boarding local inmates in the Middle Peninsula Regional Security Center in Saluda. 

The county’s total cost to house jail inmates in the 2008-09 fiscal year will be $881,000, said assistant county administrator Marcia Jones.

“This thing is out of control,” said supervisor Jack Miller.

Jones reported that Middlesex had the second highest inmate population of the five member counties of the regional jail. King William has the highest population.

Middlesex Sheriff Guy Abbott said one of the problems is that his deputies are putting people in jail every night. “It just looks like they (some county residents) have gone wild,” he said.

Jones feels part of the problem stems from inmates having to stay in the regional jail longer than necessary. She noted the jail has become a safe haven for the mentally handicapped because so many state mental facilities have closed.

It costs Middlesex County $75.71 a day to house each inmate whose crime occurred in the county. On June 3, there were 33 inmates from Middlesex at the Middle Peninsula Regional Security Center in Saluda, said Superintendent David Harmon. The cost to the county: $2,500 a day.

The state allocates $8 per day per inmate toward the cost. The total cost of having an inmate in jail is about $78 per day. So, if the inmate is from Middlesex, the county has to pay $70 a day.

Jones gave a couple of examples of the high cost of incarcerating inmates. She noted 18 months ago Abbott sent two deputies to California to pick up a man wanted for not showing up in Middlesex court on a drunk driving charge and writing bad checks in the county. This inmate alone has already cost Middlesex taxpayers $30,000, she said.

Jones said the case of inmate Art Bracke is another example of the correctional system draining county coffers. Bracke, who was convicted of several felonies in Middlesex, has been sentenced to 35 years in jail. However, because there are other charges pending against him, he remains in the regional jail at the county’s expense instead of the state penitentiary at the state’s expense.

Razor wire surrounds the Saluda jail which is a “dumping ground” for society’s problems, said MPRSC superintendent David Harmon.

Bracke may be in the regional jail for as long as two more years—with the county meter running the entire time, said Jones.

“We are never going to get totally away from having to pay more than we should, but maybe we can find ways to help trim the cost,” said county administrator Charles Culley.

Supervisors requested that county attorney Mike Soberick look into how to decrease jail costs. 

Jones indicated she had also spoken to Middlesex County Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Hurd about the problem.

Supervisor Fred Crittenden said that maybe attorneys could work together to make this entire process less costly. “We are in troubled economic times,” he said. “It’s important we find ways to keep the cost of inmates down.”

Supervisor Kenneth W. Williams said he had recently received a report that indicated the state continues to take in less revenue than anticipated, and economic conditions may worsen in the coming year for both the state and its localities.

“The state depends heavily on corporate and income taxes for revenues,” said Culley. “Look at the large businesses closing across the state along with the high unemployment. We may be in for a long, hard go of it.”

posted 06.03.2009

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