It costs $33 per day to house a prison inmate; Decatur County officials seek cost savings

money_barsThirty three dollars per day — that’s how much it costs for Decatur County to house one inmate at the Decatur County Prison on Airport Road, according to Warden Elijah McCoy.

McCoy said that $33 per day, per inmate includes costs such as food ($3.66 per day), clothing, personal hygiene items and linens (bed sheets and towels). According to McCoy, $33 per day does not include the cost of the prison’s 47 employees, almost all of whom are guards.

The prison gets reimbursed by the State of Georgia at a rate of $20 per day, per inmate. McCoy said that rate has been in place since around 1999, and said prison wardens across the state have been lobbying the Georgia Department of Corrections to increase that reimbursement for the past “5-6 years.”

Currently, the Decatur County Prison has about 300 inmates. Around 80 of those are “local” inmates the State of Georgia does not pay any reimbursement for housing. Local inmates are generally those people who are sentenced to prison time on lesser state crimes, for example, a judge sends them back to prison for violating the terms of their probation. The county government foots the bill for these inmates; they stay shorter periods of time and are more likely to be considered “trustees” for sending out on work details.

The other 220 inmates are being housed on behalf of the Georgia Department of Corrections.

clipart-jailIf it costs Warden McCoy $33 per day to house each inmate, and Decatur County only receives $20 per day / per state inmate; then it could be said the prison is losing $13 per day, per inmate.

Warden McCoy has proposed sending back as many as 100 “state” inmates to the state prison system, a move that would save about $475,000 annually.

“They have the bed space today to take them back,” McCoy told Sowegalive. “If I had proposed sending them back 10 years ago, they probably would have been unable to house them and they might consider making a compromise of some sort.”

Trimming the daily inmate population by about 100 inmates will cut costs, but will also mean that the warden will have to lay off 10 prison employees, which said he will do by June 30. The cost of providing salary plus insurance and other benefits to a prison guard is $55,000 per year, according to the warden.

The date of June 30 is significant because that’s when the burden of paying for the prison falls to Decatur County Commissioners. Previously, City of Bainbridge property owners were essentially double-taxed for the prison: once on their City of Bainbridge tax bill and again on their Decatur County tax bill. After June 30, the two governments’ joint Service Delivery Agreement stipulates that 100 percent of prison funding will come from the property tax that is levied by the county government.

prison_guard_3While county commissioners have said at a recent meeting they have no intention of closing down the prison altogether, several have noted the importance of fixing the estimated $2.2 million budget shortfall at the Decatur County Prison.

As for the remaining 80 “local” inmates, Warden McCoy said he is in talks with Sheriff Wiley Griffin about possibly taking over financial responsibility for them. According to McCoy, this would require county commissioners to move money from the Sheriff’s budget to the prison’s budget. The inmates would remain housed at the County Prison. It’s not immediately clear what the benefit would be for the Sheriff’s Office, which operates the Decatur County Jail.

“My goal is to put every inmate outside working daily, except for the kitchen staff,” Warden McCoy said.

Currently, Decatur County has contracts with several other local governments to provide inmate labor to them. According to the warden, the customers include the City of Bainbridge, Decatur County Schools, the City of Cairo, GA, Grady County Commissioners, and Seminole County.

McCoy told Decatur County commissioners he would be re-evaluating the costs of providing inmate labor and said he plans to propose that the contracts with other agencies be re-negotiated accordingly.

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