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Exploring the adverse impact of unfunded mandates for jails

system ranks 50th among the states. Tese major failures of the state to provide for these state priorities are adversely impacting public safety and the ability of county governments to perform the priority duties assigned to counties by law. Recently, the Association of Arkansas Counties’ Board of Di-


rectors respectfully requested the various county officials and jus- tices of the peace to join them, the County Judges Association of Arkansas (CJAA) and the Arkansas Sheriffs Association (ASA) by adopting a resolution to express the adverse impact of the jail overcrowding crisis to their community and to provide a copy to their members of the General Assembly and local press. Approxi- mately 2,528 state inmates are currently being held in county jails. Until the past couple of years, the previous record of inmate backup in the county jails was approximately 1,850. Te sheriffs of Arkansas have determined that our county jails

statewide can hold collectively 1,600 inmates and a cap should be set and respected by the state in order to secure public safety. Te prolonged unprecedented overcrowding and long-term detention of convicted felons in our local jails creates an unnecessary danger to the public, prison staff and inmates. Many of our county of- ficials, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, district judges and circuit judges see first-hand the revolving door of misdemeanor violators and deterioration of law and order in our communities that has been caused by the unprecedented prolonged back up of state prisoners in our county jails. Protecting Arkansas communi- ties is at issue, and the safety of our citizens should be a funding priority for our state officials. However, the General Assembly appropriated and funded only about $9 million dollars under category “A” for payment of county jail reimbursement (which at $28 per day for 365 days would pay for only 880 state inmates for the current state fiscal year, FY 2015). Reasonable estimates of the total jail reimburse- ment necessary for payment to counties for 2,300 state inmates held in county jails for fiscal year FY 2015 would exceed $23 million dollars (July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015; at $28 per day for 365 days). County jail reimbursement for FY 2015 will far exceed the $9 million dollars appropriated and funded under cat- egory “A,” and the state of Arkansas currently owes counties in excess of $6.8 million for county jail reimbursement. Tis un- paid government debt is increasing by approximately $1.3 mil- lion dollars per month.

Te continued delay in payment of jail reimbursement until calendar year 2015 creates an unnecessary and severe economic hardship on county governments and local taxpayers. It is well documented that counties are reimbursed only $28 per day for state inmates, which is, on average statewide, $20 per day per


e are currently under several unprecedented un- funded mandates. Our jails are holding unprec- edented levels of state and local inmates, and there is no end at sight. Our state mental health

Research Corner

prisoner shy of what it actually costs. Te most recent average daily cost from Legislative Audit is $49.35 per day. Te failure of the state to pay ac- tual costs (even at a $45 a day rate) has inflicted a state-created UN- FUNDED MANDATE upon coun- ty governments and local taxpayers in excess of $18 million dollars for holding state prisoners. It is vital that the state of Arkansas take responsibil- ity for its inmates and discharge the paramount duty under the Arkansas Constitution and laws of Arkansas to protect the public and provide for the detention of convicted felons. Tere is no single tool to address the overcrowding crisis. Some evidence-based tools were initially provided under Act 570 of 2011 in the form of $2.2 million dollars in “performance incen- tive” grants. Tese grants to counties were for programs of the county’s choice to reduce recidivism such as: smart sentencing, specialty courts (such as drug court, swift courts, mental health courts or veteran’s courts) or crisis intervention teams, etc. Meet- ings were held and follow up meetings scheduled but thereafter canceled in fall 2012. However, the money was spent on commu- nity correction agency needs. So in the midst of the worst prison and jail-overcrowding crisis in history, the nationally accepted means for reducing prison recidivism enacted by the General As- sembly had funding pulled. Prior to the end of the 2014 fiscal session, state agency offi-

Mark Whitmore AAC Chief Counsel

cials proposed that the counties should use some of their under- funded county jail reimbursement to contract with out-of-state independent contractors to hold state inmates. Attorney General Opinion No. 2013-058 explains that the state of Arkansas may contract with out-of-state contractors to hold state inmates, but that counties generally do not have that legal authority. We then suggested that the state of Arkansas amend its budget to provide funds for contracting for the detention of state inmates. It’s defi- nitely part of the solution, especially considering that it may take the state of Arkansas three years to build a 1,000-bed prison. We continue to make that plea.

Also, please note that independent contractors can build 1,000- bed prisons in a fraction of the three years projected by the state and at a fraction of the $100 million sot projected by the state. Tese independent contractors hold state prisoners for other states at a fraction of the actual costs per inmate of the Arkansas Depart- ment of Corrections, which exceeds $65 dollars a day. It seemed like a good idea for agency officials to suggest to counties a few months ago. Needless to say there is now bureaucratic resistance by state agency officials to use of independent contractors. Many other states during times of crisis have had to increase


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