County objects to proposal keeping most felons out of state prison
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (April 19, 2010) — County commissioners said Monday that they strongly oppose a proposal currently under consideration by the state legislature that would prevent most convicted felons from being sent to state prison unless they’ve committed at least three felony crimes.
Sheriff J.B. King went further, noting that he’s contacted State Rep. David Day and State Sen. Frank Barnitz.
“I’ve already contacted David and Frank and told them, ‘No way in hell,’” King said. “This is really going to mess things up if this gets passed.”
That proposed funding cut follows an earlier decision by the legislature to reduce the amount of money the state pays per day to counties for housing inmates who are eventually convicted of crimes and sent to state prison. If the proposed legislation passes, people who have committed Class D or Class C felonies — in general, crimes for which the maximum sentence is seven years or less — won’t serve time at all or will spend their time in county jails rather than state prisons.
“I would say that would take the biggest bulk, without doing the research. All of those will be sent down to county jails instead of state prisons,” said Presiding Commissioner Don McCulloch. “Needless to say, most of the people who get send to the Department of Corrections are C and D felonies. This is huge.”
Western District Commissioner Ricky Zweerink said he anticipates even worse problems with more state budget cuts that will hurt county budgets.
“This is just going to be one of many coming,” Zweerink said. “I’d say they’re gasping for air through a straw.”
Eastern District Commissioner Bill Farnham said Pulaski County could be hurt even more severely than other affected counties if state prison inmates get sent down to the local county jails. Pulaski County routinely has two to three times as many inmates as it has beds, so the county pays $35 per day to send inmates to neighboring jails, most commonly the Dixon City Jail, Phelps County Jail and Miller County Jail.
“My question is what are we going to do in a situation when we have counties around us that have nice new jails; I think Maries is the only one that doesn’t have a new jail,” Farnham said. “If the other counties have to start filling their jails up with their own prisoners they won’t be able to take ours and we won’t have anyplace left to send our people at $35 per day.”
Farnham said plans to bring a drug court to Pulaski County that’s currently being tested in other counties of the 25th Judicial Circuit could help.
“If the drug court is successful it may help, but if the drug court is not successful we are facing some really big numbers,” Farnham said.
King said he’s not optimistic.
“The drug court is very successful, hut it is a very rigorous program and most of the people do wash out. The ones who do graduate are pretty successfully taken off the rolls of the evildoers, but it’s not that many of them,” King said. “If this bill goes into effect, there are going to be a lot of very unhappy Pulaski County citizens who want to know why the person who burglarized their house is still out there and not in jail, and we’re going to have to tell them, ‘Your burglary was only his first, and then he’s going to have to be convicted of a second, and we can only send him to prison on the third offense.’”
“And that doesn’t even count the SIS (suspended imposition of sentence) — they can plea-bargain down to a suspended imposition of sentence and then it doesn’t count as a conviction at all,” McCulloch said.
“It looks to me like the feds are dumping on the states and the state is dumping on the counties and we have no place to dump,” King said.
“It’s kind of like being in the dump; we have no place to send them,” Zweerink said. “When this comes crashing it’s going to come crashing.”
Zweerink asked what the chances are of collecting from prisoners for room and board and on collecting from such sources as tax refunds; King said inmates are currently charged room and board but the county rarely collects the payments because most inmates have no money or assets.
In other business, County Clerk Diana Linnenbringer said she attended the Missouri Association of Counties on April 12 and heard directly from the Speaker of the House, Ron Richard, that the budget picture will be dire.
“Ron Richard said if you thought 2010 was bad, wait until you see 2011,” Linnenbringer said. “Basically he said the state is having to cut a large amount of money out of the budget and basically it’s going to be worse next year.”
Not only county commissioners and clerks but also county collectors, county assessors and representatives of the Missouri Sheriff’s Association attending the Missouri Association of Counties meeting, Linnenbringer said.
“Basically it’s a tough time,” Linnenbringer said. “The federal government is pushing more costs down to the state level and the states are pushing more things down to the counties, and unfortunately, the counties don’t have anywhere to push it.”