Jail overcrowding pinching county coffers
Caldwell County is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars more than originally expected to house local inmates in other counties’ jails.
The county board of commissioners approved a request Monday night by the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office for $325,000 to cover the cost of housing inmates in Alexander and Ashe counties just from March to June. The county originally budgeted only $50,000 for the entire 2013-14 fiscal year but has spent more than $364,000, Finance Officer Tony Helton said.
“We did not know at that point (last summer, when the year’s budget was approved) exactly what the costs would be,” Helton said. “We decided to address it throughout the year as it was needed. This cost has escalated very quickly.”
The cost to house inmates in the Alexander County jail as of Monday for the 2013-14 fiscal year was $175,935 and in the Ashe County jail was $188,560.
In fiscal 2012-13, Caldwell County spent more than $100,000 to send jail inmates to Alleghany, Ashe, Buncombe, Cabarrus, Gaston, Haywood and Madison counties.
The sheriff’s office decided to consolidate the inmates to just Alexander and Ashe counties to reduce the cost of transporting them and make it easier to track inmates, sheriff’s Capt. B.J. Fore said. On Monday, there was a total of 244 Caldwell inmates Caldwell, Alexander and Ashe jails. The capacity of the Caldwell
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County Detention Center, built in 1999, is 185 inmates.
After Monday night’s meeting, Commissioner Clay Bollinger said the board was surprised with the spike in recent numbers. He said the county has been working with the district attorney’s office since the start of the year to try to lower the number of inmates by moving “inmates through the system more quickly.”
The Caldwell County jail began to see an increase in its inmate population in May 2012, and began housing inmates in other jails the following month. County Manager Stan Kiser attributed the increase in part to a provision of the Justice Reinvestment Act, a sweeping reform of sentencing and corrections passed in June 2011 that increased the minimum sentences for certain misdemeanors that are served in jails instead of state prisons. Also, an increase in arrests and detention of federal prisoners has contributed to the overcrowding, Fore said.
Commissioner Chris Barlowe said the county has also looked at expanding the current jail, but at this time it appears to be more fiscally responsible to lease the beds than to expand the jail.