The new Cape County jail is helping fund itself

Saturday, December 22, 2001

JACKSON, Mo.

The holding of federal prisoners in the new Cape Girardeau County jail has proved so profitable that the county wants more.

The county may get its wish now that the Immigration and Naturalization Service is considering placing illegal immigrants and other foreign detainees in the jail for deportation proceedings.

The $8 million Sheriff's Office and Justice Center in Jackson opened in March. Through November, the county brought in more than $448,000 by holding an average of 33 federal prisoners a day.

At that rate for an entire year, the county would receive $612,426 in payments from the U.S. Marshals Service, Sheriff John Jordan says. That's more than enough to pay for the $450,000 in annual construction bond payments.

"It's really a great deal for the county," he said.

Jordan said federal funding, including a $1.5 million grant awarded several years ago, helped make the project a reality. "We're really fortunate that the feds wanted to house prisoners here in the worst way," he said.

The Marshals Service has a 15-year contract that requires the county to provide as many as 42 beds for federal prisoners, if needed. In return, the Marshals Service has guaranteed it will house on average at least 33 prisoners a day in the jail.

H. Weldon Macke, county auditor, said he had hoped for 42 federal prisoners a day. The Marshals Service pays $50.82 a day per prisoner held by the county. With that number of prisoners, the county would generate nearly $500 more a day.

Jordan believes more federal prisoners awaiting court appearances and trials will be housed in the county jail once a new federal courthouse is built in Cape Girardeau. The project is in the planning stages.

Holding 42 federal prisoners a day would generate $779,000 a year.

Jordan said the county jail likely will have more federal prisoners next year thanks to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The INS recently expressed interest in housing detainees there. Jordan said INS has increased its deportation efforts in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The INS would pay the same daily fee per person as the Marshals Service but wouldn't be guaranteed cell beds.

More federal money would help defray some of the costs of operating the sheriff's office and jail, which now total $2.5 million a year.

Sheriff wants more

Jordan welcomes the idea of holding more federal prisoners. But he won't guarantee cell space for INS because the county needs room for its own prisoners.

The county has been packed with prisoners since the jail opened nine months ago. The influx of federal prisoners has filled cells too.

The jail for most of the year has had more prisoners than bed space, forcing prisoners to be held in jails in other Southeast Missouri counties. In May and June, the county averaged nearly 170 prisoners a day. The highest monthly average was 172 in August.

But the number of prisoners since has declined slightly to around 160 a day.

The county has been forced to fix up old jail cells to hold inmates as well as house a number of them in other county jails in Southeast Missouri.

Jordan said the new jail was designed to hold 10 female prisoners in a single cell block, but earlier this year the county averaged 20 to 25 a day. The county had to send many of them to other jails, he said.

Old cells renovated

In September after renovations, the county reopened one of its two cell blocks in the old, adjoining jail, providing room for 13 more prisoners.

Jordan said the county already has invested $180,000 in wiring fire alarms, putting in ceiling cameras and installing electronic controls to open and close cell doors in the old jail from the command center in the new jail.

The county plans to spend about $20,000 more to finish renovations in the old cell block, including a dormitory area that can house as many as 30 people.

When completed next year, the entire jail -- old and new -- will hold more than 200 prisoners. That should eliminate the need to house prisoners in other counties, the sheriff said.

The county this year alone has spent about $150,000 housing prisoners in other jails, Jordan said. But that's still far less than the $284,000 shelled out by the county in 2000.

Even with the added cell space, the county still will have some room-and-board expenses at other jails, the sheriff said.

That's because people arrested elsewhere on Cape Girardeau County warrants often may be held for several days in jails in those locations before deputies can pick them up. In other cases, Cape Girardeau County prisoners are held in other jails for their own protection, he said.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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