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Draper: Inmate funds not assured
Sheriff Steve Draper
Thursday, July 19, 2012
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
In January, Martinsville Sheriff Steve Draper is anticipating a struggle to keep the payments from the state made to local and regional jails to help offset the cost of housing inmates.
Virginia is one of only a few states to make the per diem (per day) payments to regional and local jails for housing inmates, Draper said.
“We are at their mercy,” he said. Localities in “every other state in the nation” fund jail operations on their own, he added.
His concern that funds will continue stems from ongoing efforts to reduce state funding. The amount of the per diems has been cut in the past, and they also have been diverted to plug other budget holes, he said.
In Virginia, per diems are paid quarterly and cost the state an estimated $47 million annually, Draper said.
There are two types of per diems — a $4 per day payment for “local responsible inmates” and $12 per day for those considered “state responsible,” he said.
Local responsible inmates are offenders sentenced to 12 months in jail or less, Draper said. They are kept in local jurisdictions.
State responsible inmates are sentenced to more than 12 months and are housed in local jails until they are transferred to state facilities, he said.
The state had paid an $8 per diem for local responsible inmates, but it was cut in half during Gov. Tim Kaine’s administration, Draper said. The $18 per diem for state responsible inmates also was reduced in that period.
It is difficult to calculate the actual loss of funds the city jail could be facing because it varies, “and there are a lot of times when we get to the last quarter of the fiscal year that they (state) will not pay the per diems” at all, and the funds are used to help balance the state budget, Draper said.
“Then we have to go to Richmond and ask them to please not cut our fourth quarter per diems,” he said. “This is not the State Compensation Board, and it’s not the Treasury Office of the state. This comes straight out of the governor’s office.”
A nearly two-year decrease in the number of inmates in many jails also has meant an additional dip in per diems, Draper said.
“The average number of inmates had been down for the last 18 months,” said Draper, who is chairman of a statewide committee charged with rewriting jail standards.
The decreased jail population in Martinsville, although “very unusual and uncommon,” was part of a trend across much of Virginia, and “we really don’t know” what prompted it, Draper said of himself and other committee members.
“In the over 18 years that I’ve been here, when things got tight and the number of jobs decrease, the jail population increases,” Draper said. But during the recent time of record unemployment, “we probably had a record low” in the jail population.
Martinsville facilities are considered full with 96 inmates, but before the decrease, the facilities averaged 130 to 140 inmates, the sheriff said. In the last 18 months, the number of inmates averaged 110 to 112, Draper said.
To limit the amount of state funds lost from per diems — and man the inmate work force program — Draper said he offered to take inmates from other localities.
“We were pretty fortunate to be able to keep our numbers up in the jail,” he said, and noted the city lost more state funds due to the reduction in the per diems.
“Now, we are starting to see a slight increase. We’re probably now at an average of 122 to 125 inmates, and that’s getting back up to our norm ... That’s a comfortable number,” he said. “We don’t know” what is driving that increase, either.
Henry County Sheriff’s Lt. Col. Steve Eanes said there also was a decrease in the average number of inmates held in the county jail.
The decrease, he said, may have been caused when state-responsible inmates were transferred from the county jail to state facilities.
Regardless, and over the last two years, the average dropped from the previous 185 to 190 inmates to about 150, Eanes said.
Currently, the average is 175 inmates per day, and Eanes speculated the increase may be due to a jump in the number of calls for service.
In June, the most recent data available, Eanes said officers had responded to nearly 1,500 more calls than in June of last year, and “we are probably averaging about 3,800 to 3,900 calls for service per month,” he said.
If that trend continues, Eanes said he anticipates the sheriff’s office will have responded to between 48,000 and 49,000 calls by the end of 2012.
Although data about the types of calls was not immediately available, “I do know our larcenies have jumped drastically,” with thefts of metal products, shoplifting and others, Eanes said.
In Patrick County, Sheriff Dan Smith said the average number of inmates has bucked the statewide trend.
“We are averaging about 75 per day, and we have had as many as 80 inmates” per day. “That is a slight increase,” the sheriff said.
The new jail opened last year, and it is rated to hold 126 inmates, Smith said. He believes the opening had “an impact on the slight increase” of inmates because “we never saw the drop-off that other jurisdictions had.”
Before it opened, the county had an average of 60 inmates, including the 30 it housed in the old jail and another 30 is housed in facilities elsewhere, Smith said.
When inmates are housed outside of a jurisdiction, the locality pays for their care, Smith has said.
In addition to the new jail, Smith also cited arrest data from the state that showed authorities in Patrick are making nearly “twice as many arrests annually as some jurisdictions that are twice our size.”
He said the increased number of inmates “is just because we are continuing to be aggressive and make a lot of arrests,” Smith said.