Exploring options for Madison County’s jail issue

by Sarah Capp and Bob Ballinger State Representatives

The struggle of counties trying to find ways to fund the incarceration of criminals is nothing unique or new. In the last few years, many other counties have had to address funding issues concerning their county jails. Like Madison County, budgets have been hit hard by the costs incurred by having to house prisoners in jails in other counties. Not only is the county responsible for housing of those incarcerated, but also for the transportation to and from court and for healthcare services. These transportation obligations take law enforcement officers away from Madison County and off the streets of our towns and cities, making our communities less safe. So, how do we fix it?
The voters of Madison County have rejected a tax to pay for a new jail three times now. Currently, those arrested in the county stay for 24 hours before they are sent to the Washington County Detention Center at the tune of $62 a day per prisoner. The long-term viability of sustaining this protocol is heavy on the minds of local leaders and townspeople.
Recently, many counties have addressed these same issues and how to move forward, including Franklin, Logan, Marion, Phillips, Baxter and Woodruff counties. None of the aforementioned counties had the luxury of tapping into their general budget to fund constructing new facilities. Normally, the answer lies in capital improvement bonds and taxes.
As far as state funding availability, Madison County is eligible for a USDA Community Facility Loan with favorable terms, 3.5 percent fixed interest rate up to 40 years. Additionally, the county is eligible for a grant of 15 percent of the project costs up to a max of $50,000 through the USDA Community Facilities Grant Program. Every dollar from outside of the county helps, but it is clear that we will have to generate the bulk of the revenue ourselves. It’s important to develop a plan that is best for Madison County.
The answer may also be a regional jail shared by several counties or managed exclusively by Madison County. This would help the county in that we could enter into a longterm contract with the state to house state inmates in our unutilized space at a rate that would generate some revenue for the county. It is possible that we could collect enough from the state to pay back a bond and help fund the operations of our new jail.
This solution also has potential drawbacks. It would mean that the county would be constructing a facility that would be bigger and more expensive than we acutely need to serve the county. It would also mean that, longterm, we would be dependent on the state to continue to utilize the space or we would be stuck with the full costs associated with the jail’s operation. Regardless, the community should have the opportunity to weigh those risks associated with the state cooperation option.
Next week, we will be meeting with local leaders to share ideas and information and hopefully help develop a plan that would allow our county to move forward using a conservative approach that benefits the county and her people.
We’re committed to finding solutions and believe one is on the horizon.