New prisoner contract is "no-lose situation"
New agreement expected to bring in additional income for sheriff’s department and jail
The ink is fresh on a prisoner housing contract between Ozark and Greene Counties that could bring as much as $200,000 for the county in the coming year.
“It’s a no-lose situation for the sheriff’s department,” Ozark County Sheriff Darrin Reed said Monday. “And it’s a big plus for Ozark County in general.”
Reed said Greene County commissioners on April 18 signed the agreement, which had already been signed by representatives of the Ozark County Commission, Ozark County Sheriff’s Office and Greene County Sheriff’s Office.
Greene County prisoners may be housed in the Ozark County Jail as soon as early May. The contract agreement
The prisoner housing contract allows the Ozark County Jail to house surplus Greene County prisoners and be reimbursed $45 per inmate per day for the space. The one-year contract can be terminated at any time by either county, but Reed expects the agreement will run smoothly, and they will continue to renew the contract in coming years.
Greene County’s 860-bed jail is completely full at this time, and 157 additional prisoners are being housed in other counties. Greene County is in the process of building a new jail, set to be completed in three years, that will house 1,100 prisoners; however, Reed says with crime on the rise, jail personnel at both locations expect the new facility will also be filled and Greene County will still have to look elsewhere to house additional prisoners.
Although the Ozark-Greene County contract does not list a specific minimum or maximum number of prisoners to be held here at any one time, Reed hopes that Ozark County will house 10 to 15 inmates on a regular basis.
The Ozark County Jail, which was built with 24 beds and one holding cell, generally has a dozen or so beds empty at any time. Reed says the jail averages about 12 inmates at a time throughout the year but has held as few as six before. In the past, up to 40 prisoners have been held in the space. Reed says he’s not comfortable housing that many prisoners here, but he would like to fill the empty cells through the Greene County contract.
“It’s kind of like running a hotel,” Reed said. “We want all of the beds full.”
The prisoners will likely be longer-term inmates who are scheduled to be held in custody for six months or longer. As part of the agreement, Ozark County is responsible for transporting the inmates to and from their court appearances in Greene County. When the time comes that the prisoners are released from custody into the public, they will be transported to Greene County for release.
“It’s important that the public know that these prisoners are not going to released in our community, in Ozark County,” Reed said.
Revenue and expenses
Reed says conservatively calculating that the Ozark County jail will house 10 prisoners for Greene County, on average, at $45 per inmate per day, means an extra $164,250 a year for the Ozark County Sheriff’s Department.
The jail, which gets a percentage of money spent by inmates at its commissary, where those in custody can purchase snacks, additional hygiene items and other items, could get an additional $30,000 annually for those sales.
Reed hopes to hire an additional full-time deputy with the extra funds, something that is sorely needed in the county, he says. The sheriff’s department currently has seven full-time deputies who cover Ozark County’s 744 square miles seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
“It’s a stretch,” Reed said. “You have to remember this isn’t just one shift during the day like other businesses. We have round-the-clock patrol, 24-7, in a very large county. Factor in [officers’] comp time, vacations and sick time, and it’s hard to make it all work. We’re really short a deputy now.”
The sheriff’s department is also adding another full-time jailer, which will bring the jailer staff to three full-time employees.
Transportation back and forth to Greene County court appearances will be done with an inmate transport van the sheriff’s office recently purchased from Greene County Jail for $4,500. The transport van features a caged rear compartment that can safely house up to 10 inmates for transport. Reed said the cage alone inside the van sells for $20,000 new, so the purchase from Greene County for the bargain price was a welcome addition.
The transport van was purchased with funds from the law enforcement restitution fund, money that is paid by those convicted of felonies and misdemeanors in Ozark County. Missouri law allows a judge to add $125 per misdemeanor and $300 per felony to court costs for defendants. Reed said the fund generated an extra $40,000 in 2013, the first year it was used in Ozark County. The sheriff’s department has purchased its first ever set of new ballistics vests, body cameras, taser guns and other accessories with the funds, in addition to the transport van.
Food costs for the extra prisoners will be nominal, Reed says, because the jail serves inmates the cost-effective meal of beans and cornbread every day.
“It’s something we started several years ago, and the first year alone it saved us $11,000,” Reed said. “We go through 100 pounds of beans a week.”
A need for “outside-the-box” ideas
Reed says the outside-the-box idea to bring in revenue is much needed, but the idea isn’t new.
“In fact, Taney County basically paid for this jail to be built,” Reed told the Times, referring to the Ozark County Jail, which was built in 1996.
Prior to the new jail’s construction, Ozark County was housing 15 to 20 Taney County prisoners and being reimbursed $40 per inmate per day while Taney County built a bigger jail. Once the jail was built, the agreement between Taney and Ozark County fell away, leaving the sheriff’s department with fewer funds.
Today’s sheriff’s department is facing budgeting squeezes from other elements.
One major issue the sheriff’s department has had involves being reimbursed for housing prisoners for the Missouri Department of Corrections.
The state, which is supposed to reimburse county jails $19.58 per inmate per day, less than half of what it is expected to cost, hasn’t paid its bill to the county jails in several months. The issue, felt in the pockets of counties statewide, happens when the legislature sets aside a certain amount of money to reimburse county jails but ends up running out of the funds sooner than expected.
Reed says he estimates the state owes Ozark County a few thousand dollars now, and as much as $5 million to county jails statewide.
Another major reason the county’s budget has taken a hit has to do with the sales tax.
“I don’t think the citizens in Ozark County realize how much money is gone,” Reed said, “between the economic hit the county has taken from the historic flood of 2017, which has been detrimental to businesses that rely on tourists, to the ever-impeding presence of internet sales.
“When you buy something online, none of the sales tax makes it back to Ozark County,” Reed said.
He commended the Ozark County commissioners for trying to make sure the sheriff’s department has all it needs.
“Our commissioners have really been outstanding,” Reed said. “They are so pro-law enforcement and take care of the sheriff’s department. I know it’s hard for them to make it all stretch, but they do as good of a job as they can. The budget is just the hardest thing to do.”
Reed, who has turned as much as $70,000 in funds budgeted to the sheriff’s department back to the county, says he understands the importance of being fiscally responsible.
“We don’t’ spend money on things we absolutely don’t need. I always want to make sure each deputy has dependable tools to do his job, but the extra stuff just isn’t in the budget. We don’t have four wheelers, side by sides, or any of that… we have what we absolutely need to survive on and be safe,” he said.
Reed says he’s continuing to search out other ideas to bring in additional funds to the sheriff’s department while reducing or eliminating expenses.
“God has blessed me with the best staff. I’m serious… there’s no way we could do what we do with as little as we have if we did not have the absolute best people,” Reed said. “These ideas will all come together to just make that force stronger in the future.”