Raise state per diem for county jails

Published:

Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer

If county judge-executives in Kentucky were asked to name their biggest fiscal headache, the most common answer would very likely be keeping their jails financially afloat.

Tommy Turner of the Kentucky County Judge-Executive Association said some counties are spending as much as half of their budgets on their jails.

Its no wonder some counties, including some in this area, have closed their jails entirely. Just a few years ago, Daviess Fiscal Court was contemplating a $1 million annual loss at the Daviess County Detention Center. That looming flood of red ink led directly to the county approving an occupational tax to provide more revenue.

Daviess Countys jail has so far managed to avoid some of those huge anticipated losses, but each year brings a challenge for Jailer David Osborne and his staff to balance revenue against soaring expenses. Housing state, federal and out-of-county inmates, for which the jail receives compensation, is the key ingredient to the jails financial health or lack of it.

That is why we were pleased when the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill to increase the amount of money local jails receive to house state inmates. The per diem, or the amount the jail receives for each inmate per day, will increase from $30.51 to $32.51 for the first year of the 2006-08 biennium, with another $2 per day increase for the second year.

An increase of $2 per day may not sound like much, but when it is multiplied by the hundreds of state inmates typically housed at the Daviess County Detention Center, it quickly becomes significant.

House Bill 274 is needed because large jails such as the DCDT and small jails as well should be compensated fairly for housing state inmates. Without the willingness of county jails to take state inmates, the state would have to build more prisons, which is always an expensive proposition.

A slightly better per diem rate will help prevent jails from being overwhelming drags on county finances while freeing up money for things that better serve residents. In the case of Daviess County, having a jail that is better able to consistently stand on its own financial feet could mean a lowering of occupational or property tax rates. That is a result all would welcome.

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