The state of Missouri is leaving counties in the lurch by failing to make timely payments for jailed inmates who later go to prison.
The Missouri Department of Corrections is behind by nearly $19 million in reimbursements to counties around the state. The amounts vary among the jurisdictions, but they are substantial, ranging from the nearly $2,000 owed to Gentry County to the $1.4 million that hasn’t been paid to St. Louis County.
Jackson County is owed $816,975. In Kansas City, that money could provide a much-needed boost to our deteriorating jail.
A lack of available state funding and backlogs in invoices have left counties waiting and wondering when the state might pay up.
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The payments are reimbursements, intended to cover a portion of the costs when an inmate shifts from county to state custody. It’s an arrangement that makes sense since offenders are the responsibility of the counties where they were charged and the state if they are convicted of a crime that eventually sends them to state custody.
But the Department of Corrections and the legislature are failing these counties, allowing this issue to persist for years.
Lawmakers must ensure that funds are available for these reimbursements. The state allocates a finite amount for the payments, about $40 million annually to the Department of Corrections. But once that money is gone, the repayments stop, resulting in a backlog.
It’s not fair for legislators to agree in theory that counties should be able to recoup some of their costs if, in fact, those dollars are not going to be made available.
The Department of Corrections is now auditing incoming invoices, a process that has identified about $6 million in requests that do not need to be repaid. But given the size of the totals, it’s clear that this situation has gone unaddressed for too long:
Cass County is owed $326,221.
Ray County is owed $42,923.
Clay County is due $323,297.
And Platte County is owed $219,079.
The Jackson County Detention Center, long underfunded by the county, has seen its conditions deteriorate to inhumane levels in recent years. Now, the county is facing multiple lawsuits by inmates who are rightly questioning the unsafe and unsanitary conditions.
Ultimately, the county is responsible for its jail. But if the state made its payments in a timely manner, the county could make better budgeting decisions and tackle urgently needed improvements.
Inmates and those who oversee them should not have to suffer while waiting for the state to pay its bill.