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Director’s DE S K

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just have to make sacrifices. In fact, your mother voluntarily cut her salary recently to keep her employer happy.”

Junior could not hide the expression of disappointment on his face.

“Now Junior,” said mom. “We all have to face the unknown,

and you are no different. I would like to tell you one other part about this, and I don’t want you to get upset about it. But your father and I are going to be a bit short for a while, so we can only give you $100 a month until we get a bonus sometime next year. At that point, if we get the bonus, we will pay you back all that we owe you! Isn’t that great!”

At this point, Junior, red in the face, couldn’t help himself … he stood up and ran outside as quickly as he could.

Pretty far-fetched, don’t you think? Tere’s no way a fam- ily could really operate this way … it makes no sense. From a financial standpoint this is a recipe for disaster. From a relational standpoint there’s no way possible for Junior and his parents to reconcile. Budgeting is hard, but laying the responsibility on Junior is certainly not the right way to handle it. Not account- ing for inflation is a major short-sightedness, and not having the money to pass to Junior for payment is tantamount to a crime.

As much as I’d like to tell you a situation like this could never happen, I cannot. As we close out the 2014 year the jail fund- ing/overcrowding crisis has put the counties (Junior) in this exact position with Arkansas state government (Mom and Dad). It’s an incredibly sophomoric comparison, but the facts are that counties as a subdivision of state government are under the gun from the parent that should be there to protect our interests.

At the date of this writing, more than 2,500 state inmates are sitting in our county jails. Tese jails were designed to detain wrongdoers in our communities. Instead they serve collectively as the largest state prison unit. Approximately 30 percent of the beds that you and your counties voted to create through taxing initiatives to house local criminals are stacked with hardcore felons awaiting bed space to open up in our state prison units. Te results are predictable: Inefficient jails; lack of threat of incarceration, which perpetuates crime and non-payment of fines; riots; early released non-violent offenders who repeat their crimes; unsafe conditions; and worst of all — felons training misdemeanants to commit hardcore and more violent crimes.

Te perfect criminal justice storm has hit Arkansas. Over-

crowding and a lack of funding have delivered our counties the Rocky Balboa left-right jabs resulting in two black eyes. From a budgeting standpoint, our counties find themselves in a budget- ing cycle with more than $7 million owed to us by the state … all calculated on an incredibly low and long-standing estimated cost of $28 per day, per inmate, despite the fact that our an- nual reports compiled and submitted to the state show a more realistic cost of almost $50 per day, per inmate. An argument recently emerged that our reports must be inaccurate because they include capital costs in their calculation. Tis argument is short sighted in that our capital costs and new jail construction are indeed a valid expense. Were it not for state inmates bloating our local jails many of our counties would not have taken on


aggressive jail building.

In FY2015 (July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2015) our state did something unprecedented in prisoner per-diem funding. To understand this, we all first need to understand how the state budget works. Under the Revenue Stabilization Act, all funding from the state of Arkansas is divided into categories “A,” “B,” “C” and so on. Tis is best explained by delineating the “needs” versus the “wants.” Needs are higher up on the category list, wants further down — and it is only after the needs are funded that the state begins to allocate money to the wants. Category “A,” or the “needs,” is fully funded by taking collections and di- viding them out over a 12-month period. If the revenue exceeds the forecasts, then category “B” gets funded, but only at the end of the fiscal year — say June of 2015.

Historically all of our jail reimbursement money has been funded in category “A.” Tis is very logical as we are housing prisoners that are a state responsibility and nobody has ever questioned the fact that this is a need. Just like K-12 educa- tion, the safety of our communities sits at the pinnacle of state responsibilities when it comes to her citizens. But this year, for some reason, the state funded approximately $9.5 million in category “A” and $7 million in category “B.” Why jail funding would ever be in category “B” is a mystery. To further compli- cate things, if we maintain an average daily holding of more than 2,500 inmates in our jails, the real responsibility of the state should be closer to $25.5 million.

Instead of getting about $2 million per month from the state, our counties are collectively receiving only $750,000 per month in reimbursements. Tis gap that the state owes but can’t pay ex- ceeds $7 million right now … and it grows each passing month.

Poor Junior. Tis problem must be fixed. Counties could very well see

layoffs and lack of services across the board, not to mention communities battling an increased wave of crime. In county government, we do not have the luxury of spending time figur- ing out the best way to handle the criminal justice system. We fix problems on an hour-by-hour basis, day by day. We deal with the shortages as they come to us.

Counties have not asked for more than they deserve. My guess is that we, like Junior, would be fine with the arrangement of paying with inflation adjustments and true budgeting because we would rather solve problems — together, like a family. We do not make it a habit of making the perfect the enemy of the good. Junior did not look his parents in the eye and ask for $300 a month. He would have been fine with the $200. He, like coun- ties, would want to be realistic about the problem and do what he could to help the family out. Our counties feel the same way.

With a legislative session on the horizon, we ask that each of

you take a hard look at where your county stands with regards to overcrowding and outstanding invoices to the state. It is only through education and outreach from each of you that we can effectively communicate this issue to our communities and our legislators. Tere are many issues we must deal with in the near future, but none so critical and paramount to the interests of our counties as this one. Sometimes Junior has to be the leader.


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