With more inmates in the jail, more money is needed to house, feed and clothe them.
So far this year, the sheriff’s office has spent more than $1.2 million on those costs, and is expected to spend another $287,000 by the end of the year — if not more. The money comes from tax dollars, along with money inmates pay for specific items and services.
The increase is due to the higher number of inmates in the Johnson County jail, which at one point was housing nearly 450 inmates — significantly more than the maximum capacity of 322.
As of Monday, the jail population was 365, which is still above the maximum capacity.
When the sheriff plans the budget for what will be spent on salaries, utilities and supplies to operate the jail, he is forecasting months ahead of time. So when he set how much was expected to be needed to run the jail in 2017, he had no idea that the number of inmates would continuously climb this year, Sheriff Doug Cox said.
But he has to take those inmates, and he has to provide them with a place to sleep, hygiene items, clothing and food, he said.
“There are rules we have to follow for our jail, and I will follow those,” Cox said.
One of the big expenses this year is mattresses and the plastic beds, also known as boats, for inmates to sleep in when the jail is above capacity, Cox said. The county had to buy enough of those temporary beds to house about 450 inmates — or 128 more beds than the jail has — when the jail population reached that number.
“If we need boats or mattresses, we are going to buy boats and mattresses,” Cox said.
“If I am going to be crowded, then I am going to do what is necessary to keep things cool, calm and collected around here.”
In recent weeks, the number of inmates in the jail has been declining, which Cox attributes to judges and prosecutors working together to try to get inmates’ criminal cases through the justice system, he said.
But the jail is still housing more inmates than it should, an issue county officials are discussing to try to find a solution, which could include a jail expansion. Until then, the sheriff’s office will need to spend the money needed to house however many inmates are in the jail, officials said.
Multiple items go into that cost, including wristbands for inmates, packets of paperwork that has to be filled out whenever an inmate is booked into jail — a process that happens 10,000 to 15,000 times a year — handcuffs and shackles needed to transport inmates to court, hygiene items, laundry soap, cleaning items and toilet paper, said Maj. Duane Burgess, Johnson County jail commander.
More food is needed to feed the inmates, which is taken into consideration with each weekly order, where officials strive to order enough, but not too much, Burgess said.
Another big expense: medical costs, he said.
The county has a contract with a company that has nurses, a doctor and a mental health care provider who come to the jail. But if more inmates need care than is included in the county’s contract, then they pay more, Burgess said. Inmates are expected to help with those costs, and the agency the county contracts with also tries to get the inmate’s insurance company or any benefits they receive to cover those bills, he said.
But with more inmates, especially ones using drugs, that means more care. For example, if an inmate is a needle drug user, they frequently have infections from using dirty needles, which have to be taken care of, Burgess said. Often, inmates haven’t seen a doctor since the last time they were in jail, he said.
Here is a look at what the county has spent this year on some of the expenses related to running the Johnson County jail: