View Full Version : Cost of jailing a prisoner

02-25-2003, 02:13 PM
2/24/2003 8:18:04 AM
Daily Journal - Published Monday, Feb. 24, 2003


Daily Journal

The jail business is a lot more complicated than providing inmates with a place to rest their heads and three meals a day.

It's also expensive.

The numerous costs incurred by housing prisoners include the common suspects, ranging from meals to utilities to uniforms, but the whopping amounts are the prisoners' medical costs absorbed by taxpayers each year.

Lee County Sheriff Larry Presley offered convicted murderer Lolan Ray Smith as an example of the costs incurred when a prisoner has a unique medical condition.

Smith, recently convicted of murdering his grandson, has an enlarged heart and the county took on the costs of his medical care during his 10-month stay at the jail.

"One month I remember we spent about $1,400 on him," Presley said. "His stay here probably cost us between $10,000 and $14,000. We try to get people with health problems moved out as quick as possible, but you know how filled up the court docket is.

"They're busy just like we are."

While Smith's situation is a rare and expensive one, the cost of prisoners' medical care still places a budgetary strain on the county. The Lee County-Tupelo Adult Jail charges the arresting agency $25 per day for housing prisoners, while the medical costs alone are roughly $3 per prisoner, per day.

Three dollars sounds like a small amount, but with taking care of about 200 prisoners every day, the costs add up.

Lee County jail records show $43,974.51 has been paid for prisoners' medical care over the past three months, with $18,359 of that coming from prescription medications. Another $18,497.12 has been paid during that period to medical staff, including a physician, nurse and dentist.

Part of the jail's booking process affords the prisoner an opportunity to complete a medical history form detailing any needed medications.

"They come in here looking real bad sometimes," Presley said. "It's like they never worry about their health until they get in jail. Then after a couple of days, they start getting some color back in their faces and get healthy."

County administrator Ronnie Bell said the $25 daily charge for housing prisoners, established when Tupelo and Lee County officials opened the jail, is likely to come under review in the coming year.

"We haven't looked at is since it was agreed upon," Bell said. "We will review the cost this year."

Bell added exact costs of the jail's operation are not easily determined because some personnel have "dual responsibilities" such as administrators who also serve in a law enforcement capacity.

"We are going to try to have a separate budget for the jail this next fiscal year that will help us track what our actual costs are," Bell said in reference to separating jail operation costs in the jail's overall budget.

Consent order

The quality of the prisoners' medical care has been is dispute in recent years, with the jail currently operating under a federal consent order issued because of problems in keeping medical records.

Presley said his office has addressed that problem by hiring personnel directly responsible for properly maintaining the prisoners' medical records.

"That should be out of the way pretty soon," Presley said.