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Missouri’s jail reimbursement program ‘one of a kind’: A look at the backlog

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri’s “one of a kind” jail reimbursement program has caused consternation as the backlog to repay counties hit nearly $33 million for the 2019 fiscal year. 

Missouri has a unique program in that the state — through the Department of Corrections (DOC) — reimburses county jails for housing, transporting, and otherwise taking care of individuals convicted of a felony. The reimbursement covers some costs accrued even before an individual is sentenced, according to the DOC. 

The department has three different types of reimbursement payments: 

  • Bill of costs: expenses resulting from various costs and fees from prosecution of certain crimes
  • Extradition: expenses resulting from a fugitive who is brought to Missouri to face disposition of criminal charges
  • Transportation: expenses resulting from convicted offenders who are delivered to state prison 

While there is no limit to how many inmates a county can house — and thus request reimbursement for — the state does have a limit per inmate per day. Statute allows for reimbursement of up to $37.50 per day, but the current rate set is $22.58 per day, according to the department. 

A look at the backlog

The department has been under scrutiny for the past few years over the backlog its accrued in repaying counties — with department officials blaming the “discrepancy” between the money it has to pay out and what’s been allocated by the General Assembly. The Missouri legislature is responsible for approving state departments’ budgets. 

Recent data showed the department owed counties nearly $33 million for the 2019 fiscal year. St. Louis city and county, as well as Greene and Jackson counties, have the largest arrearage, according to recent data.

The Missouri legislature approved about $43.3 million for the department’s total budget in 2019. It has approved about $44 million for the 2020 fiscal year. 

Counties are approved for reimbursement based on the date of the receipt — not incarceration. The department awards reimbursements at the start of each quarter but often hits its allotment wall after only three days, Karen Pojmann, a department spokeswoman, said. 

At a House hearing last month, county officials said the backlog has put a strain on their own budgets. 

“Some sheriffs are talking about having to lay off deputies, myself included,” Lewis County Sheriff David Parrish said. 

“It’s become clear that the way we’re handing prisoner reimbursement isn’t working for anyone involved,” House Budget Chair Cody Smith told The Missouri Times. “I believe there are things the state can provide, like a statewide electronic monitoring platform, that will help reduce these costs.” 

This year, the General Assembly approved $5 million for a pretrial electronic monitoring program. That program has not yet been implemented, however. 

“If we’re able to drive down expenses for counties and the state, we can then go back and systematically address the arrearage that has accumulated,” he said. 

Another person familiar with the program from its inception suggested it was originally a way to counter the overflow in state prisons. But as Missouri approves changes to mandatory minimum sentencing — and the state prison population declines — “maybe it’s time to relook at” it, a source said.  

A look at what’s to come

Missouri’s system has changed in recent years — and officials are hoping to upgrade it further by 2020 with an electronic form process. 

And since late 2016, the department has assigned a “dedicated team” to go through reimbursement requests, ensuring mistakes have not been made and counties are not paid more than needed, Pojmann said.