Monday, October 12, 2009

State Foists Prisoners on Counties

Readers of this space will know that I am skeptical of “government as god”. What I mean by that is I don’t think that government can successfully provide a program to answer every human need. There are some things, good things, that ought to be done, but that does not mean that the government should be the one that does it. Politicians can’t answer our every need, but they can sure bankrupt us trying.

This view is not at all anti-government. Scripture teaches that government is God’s minister to do certain things, so the man who is against all government is also against God. According to Romans 13, human government is ordained as God’s minister to honor those who do good and bring wrath on evil doers.

The problem is that human government does not limit itself to the role laid out for it in scripture. There are too many historical examples where those who run government get big ideas about their own wisdom. Instead of serving as God’s minister, they try to be His replacement. This doesn’t work out too well. Government gets so busy trying to do everything, that it doesn’t do anything well, including the stuff it is supposed to be doing. That includes the “bringing wrath on evil-doers” role.

Here is the practical application to the principles described above. Arkansas has a problem with prison overcrowding. It is one that threatens to make us less safe because the system increasingly has no place to put the bad guys that it should be punishing. Instead of dealing with the matter, the state government is spending all kinds of money doing other things that are not its responsibility. And it is dealing with it in another way too. It is foisting these state prisoners off on country jails. Our county jails are loaded with state prisoners.

It costs the state an average of about $56 a day to house an inmate in the state’s correctional facilities. The state forces counties to keep inmates and pays them only $28 per day to house inmates in county jails. Some of these inmates don’t belong in county jails. They should be in a more secure facility. Some of them are hardened criminals and should be kept away from people who are only in jail for a short stint for relatively minor offenses.

What does it cost the county to house these inmates? I don’t know the figures for Benton County, but State Representative Allen Kerr says that the jail in Pulaski County spends about $52 per inmate per day. That means that the state is forcing the counties to house these inmates for about half of what it really costs to house them. Well over 1,000 prisoners are being kept in county jails this way according to Kerr. Many times the state deliberately delays taking them from the county jails.

The state has no incentive to clean up its act when it can force the county to take its prisoners at a loss. Representative Kerr sponsored a bill that would raise the re-imbursement rate to $40 a day. This would not fix the problem, but it would take away at least most of the financial incentive that the state has to pawn prisoners off on the counties. Governor Beebe apparently used pressure to stop Kerr’s bill from passing in the Senate. It was kicked into an interim study. Normally this is a death-knell for a bill, but this issue won’t go away. If Kerr can get a favorable interim study, he might be able to get this partial solution another look.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is just redistribution of county wealth. Small counties get to absorb the costs of incarcerating violators of state law caught in larger counties.

By the way, just how many of these prisoners, state and county, are illegal aliens?

1:38 PM, October 12, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't think prisons were Biblical.

8:44 PM, October 12, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing."

Wow-- debtor's prison, no less. But I'm glad those aren't around nowadays.

5:47 PM, October 24, 2009  

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