Commissioners address inmate housing concerns

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

BENTON -- Speeding up the wheels of justice may reduce the cost of housing inmates for Scott County.

Scott County Commissioner Dennis Ziegenhorn said a meeting was held Tuesday before the regular County Commission meeting to discuss the inmate population at the Scott County Jail and provide commissioners with an opportunity to "ask questions about what we can do to speed up getting people processed through the system."

Inmate housing costs are a major concern for the county that commissioners will look at this year, according to Ziegenhorn. "The expenditures are just unbelievable," he said.

Ziegenhorn said the meeting, which included judges, the sheriff and the prosecuting attorney, was very successful.

"They are doing the best they can," he said. "We felt like everybody in the room was trying to get on the same page. We don't know if there is an answer."

Presiding Commissioner Jamie Burger said some good, positive ideas on how "to speed up the process and lower the county's costs" were shared during the meeting. "Everybody wants these people removed from the streets but it doesn't come without a cost," he said.

Burger said commissioners wanted the other officials to know what the county's budget is facing, however. "It was one of the first times we've been able to get everybody together for this type of meeting," he said.

Ziegenhorn said the problem of inmate housing costs is not going to go away and is likely to grow even larger.

"We don't want these people out on the street, we just want them processed," he said. "We felt everybody was trying to work toward the same goals."

Ziegenhorn said in many cases the judicial system is slowed down by things like continuances and waiting on the results of DNA tests. "It's not an easy process," he said.

County officials estimated inmates stay in the county's jail an average of six to eight months before being processed.

"This is a major concern for us as commissioners when doing the budget," Ziegenhorn said.

While the county receives reimbursement from the state for housing inmates who are convicted, the reimbursement rate is nowhere near what it costs the county to house them, according to Ziegenhorn.

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