CANYON COUNTY, Idaho — The Idaho Department of Correction presented their budget request to the Joint Finance Committee this week and sheriffs across the state are speaking out against a portion of it.
That portion of the budget calls for lowering the amount of money the state pays counties to house state inmates in county jails. The Sheriffs Association says this change would add to the property taxpayers’ burden.
This all goes back to a capacity issue. IDOC doesn't have space for all their inmates, but neither do the counties. Many jails across the state are facing overcrowding issues.
The Sheriff’s Association says this change in the payment requirement would cost counties hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"The county taxpayers are picking up all the slack,” Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue said. “They're picking up all that money the state isn't reimbursing the county.”
Donahue is just one of many sheriffs across the state that isn't happy about IDOC’s proposal to decrease how much they pay counties to house state inmates.
"It's an atrocious approach for counties," he said. “We completely disagree, in fact, it’s insulting the director would say that to us.”
Looking over the current process, when a state inmate is in a county jail, the state pays $55 for the first 7 days. After that, it jumps up to $75 per day.
The new proposal would have a flat fee of $60, no matter how long the state inmate has been in the county facility.
“We think it should go higher than that to compensate the county taxpayers of what the state's burdening them with state inmates,” Donahue said.
The Idaho Sheriff's Association estimates it costs on average $99 per day to house an inmate. That's where the frustration is coming from for the sheriffs. The state is paying less than what it costs to house inmates.
Josh Tewalt is the director of IDOC. He presented the budget to the Joint Finance Committee in the statehouse earlier this week.
“It’s equally hard for me to justify to the state income taxpayers, that we're going to pay up to $75 a day for a bed,” he said. “That doesn’t provide a service that we would normally receive in a state-supported institution.”
Tewalt was mentioning the services state prisons offer to address behaviors that resulted in the inmate landing in prison. These services try to educate the inmate and get them to change their life so they don’t end up back in prison.
He was right when he said county jails don't have the same programs to help reduce recidivism that state prisons do, but Donahue told KTVB that’s not what the costs are for.
“It doesn't happen here so you're not paying for that, that's not what we're charging you as part of our daily inmate cost,” he said.
Instead, the payment is to cover operational costs like food.
Donahue and other sheriffs do support a flat fee, but not one as low as IDOC is proposing.
“$99 - there's a flat fee for you,” he said.
Another change the Sheriff’s Association is concerned about is a proposed law change that would give the department flexibility to determine when to pick up a state inmate from a county jail.
“In my opinion, he's saying let’s just ignore the Killen decision, that's offensive as well,” Donahue said of Tewalt’s proposal.
Currently, an Idaho Supreme Court decision from 1991 ruled the department to pick up state inmates from the Ada County Jail within seven days.
Ada County is currently suing IDOC, claiming they aren’t following that ruling. Donahue said he’s approached his legal counsel to see if it would be possible to add Canyon County to the lawsuit.
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