County asked to have towns share in expenses of jail

A Fayette County Board committee will continue to discuss a proposal to establish rules that govern arrestees brought into the county jail by other law enforcement agencies.
The possible changes, which include charging those other agencies for housing arrestees prior to their arraignment, has been sent to the board’s sheriff’s committee for further review.
The county board last Tuesday heard about establishing those rules for the second month in a row, with Jail Administrator Ted Koonce introducing the proposal in September.
Along with establishing an assessment for arrestees brought into the county, the rules would spell out how arrestees requiring medical or mental health treatment are handled, including who is responsible for fees related to that treatment.
Koonce told county board members last month that until an arrestee goes before a judge for arraignment, he or she is the responsibility of the law enforcement agency handling the arrest.
Thus, Koonce said, Illinois jail standards state that the county can legally charge that arresting agency a fee for housing the arrestee prior to arraignment.
The 2019 figures for inmates brought into the jail by other agencies are:
• Illinois Department of Natural Resources-4.
• Farina Police Department-30.
• Illinois State Police-64.
• Ramsey Police Department-6.
• St. Elmo Police Department-64.
• Vandalia Police Department-347.
Last Tuesday, Sheriff Chris Smith told board members that in the past, the jail has taken in arrestees with mental health issues, and that’s more of an issue with COVID-19 rules limiting the number of inmates at the jail.
Currently, Smith said, the county is responsible for arrestees requiring medical or mental health treatment, and that that puts a financial strain on the county.
“Some departments are under the impression that require what they bring to your door, you’re gonna take it, and the sheriff is the warden of the facility and decides who he takes and who he doesn’t take.
“That’s spelled out clearly,” Smith said.
“We even had an incident where they called an ambulance on their way (on) bringing an inmate to us, met the ambulance at our back door, and said,
‘There’s your prisoner.’
“And we just can’t have that happen anymore.
We don’t have the money for that,” he said.
The coronavirus pandemic has slowed the problem some, Smith said, because the county jail is currently accepting only those arrestees charged with felony offenses.
“The need for this has slowed down, but you know eventually it will pick back up again in life,” he said.
Koonce said, “Say we’ll get one brought in and we’ve got to take them to the hospital. That is not our bill, it’s the arresting agency’s bill.
“Until he is arraigned by the judge, medical is their bill, too,” Koonce said.
“I feel like if we have to take them, we need to charge for the officer’s time (that he) sat down at the hospital.
“Why should we at the county foot that bill?” Koonce said.
Smith said that the county receives $68 per day for federal inmates. For local inmates, he said, “$55 is pretty common.” That is a one-time assessment, regardless of the days an arrestee is incarcerated before making a first appearance in court.
One of the considerations, Koonce said, is the COVID-19 pandemic’s financial impact on the jail’s food costs.
“In March, when all this started our food cost jumped $1,274 and odd cents,” Koonce said. “The individual inmate cost per feed increased.”
The food costs jumped $1,315 in April, he said. “Now, here’s the big hit – May is $3,463 and change.”
Koonce said that in July, he was able to get the increase down to $460, after spending a month dealing with the supplier through phone calls and emails.”
Board member Pat Click asked whether there has been a discussion on this issue with other agencies.
“It’s been brought up mildly, talked about,” Smith said, “but the biggest thing is, who you can bring in, who we’ll accept.
“That’s the biggest problem, and we made it through that,” Smith said.
Bruce DeLashmit of Bellwether said, “Just to be clear for the board, the operation of the jail is entirely up to the sheriff.
“Our question is, if you want to charge an additional fee. You would have to do that by ordinance. My understanding is, there are other counties that are doing this – Jefferson was the example provided.
“If there was a statute that clearly said, do this, it would be much easier. If the board wishes to do it by ordinance, and I’m telling you that you can, you have the authority to do that.
“Just anticipate we’re going to be battling a lot,” DeLashmit said.
Board member Jacob Harris said, “I don’t want to be abrasive to the other agencies, but the county can’t keep footing the bill for medical bills that have been caused on somebody else’s watch.
“They aren’t able to either, but at the end of the day, we have to watch the money the county (is responsible for),” Harris said.
“If they would work with, with the sheriff’s department, in the beginning, and taking care of the bills that they knew, rightly so, belonged to them, we wouldn’t be sitting here having this discussion.
“They expect the sheriff and the board to sit here and just take it; we’ve taken it too long, and it’s time to give them some pushback,” Harris said.
In closing, Koonce said, “I would never have brought this up if I didn’t think it was an issue. I would (have) never spent months reading this stuff if I didn’t think it was an issue, that I didn’t think something should have been done.”
Board Chairman Jeff Beckman agreed with Harris.
“Like Jacob said, you know, you get hammered around and do this and do that, you get all the complaints about this and that the other, but yet here we are,” Beckman said.
“We can’t be a giveaway program you know everybody’s got their own weight. One thing I’ve always been a believer in, is you do something, you’ve got to do it even handedly,” he said
“And, and if our jail is not being handled even handedly, like you say, then we need to correct it,” Beckman said.
“And that’s what needs to go before the board, because it’s no different than (with) federal (inmates), in my mind,” Beckman said.
Harris made the motion to send the issue to the sheriff’s committee, to have committee members work with Bellwether in drafting an ordinance.

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