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Missouri failing to reimburse counties for incarceration costs, audit finds

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The state failed to reimburse county governments for funding the incarceration of state prisoners, according to a recent report from Auditor Nicole Galloway

Missouri has a unique program in that the state — through the Department of Corrections’ (DOC) County Reimbursement Program — reimburses county jails for housing, transporting, and otherwise taking care of individuals convicted of a felony. But according to Galloway’s audit, the program is not adequately covered by state appropriations.

“Local taxpayers are left footing the bill because the state has not been keeping up its end of the deal and the cost of incarcerating state prisoners is increasing,” Galloway said. “This is an issue throughout Missouri, but is particularly concerning for smaller communities where revenue is especially limited. Our audit clearly outlines the facts and details the problems with this program so that the legislature can evaluate the information and make changes.” 

According to the audit, the General Assembly approved $52 million for reimbursements for the current fiscal year, including $9.75 million for unpaid balances — less than a third of the $31 million owed at the time. 

Galloway’s audit found the department had failed to request sufficient funds to pay outstanding claims or report shortfalls to the General Assembly in past years — a backlog that has been discussed in previous sessions. The audit suggested the department include its outstanding obligations and include the financial history of the program to inform legislators of the amount owed to counties. 

The audit included a written response from the department, which said it would “ensure that the budget documents clearly reflect the financial condition of the program to allow the General Assembly to make informed appropriation decisions.”

The audit also found the state’s reimbursement rates lagged behind the actual cost of incarceration, causing counties to subsidize costs. The state provides more than $22 a day, while the actual cost to the county was found to be closed to $49 on average. Missouri counties subsidized about $41 million in the 2020 fiscal year due to the disparity, according to the audit.

Galloway’s team also surveyed affected communities to gauge the impact of delays and rates. Officials reported having to compensate for the lack of funding through increased taxes and reducing other services, as well as difficulty hiring new employees due to low salaries. 

The audit also recommended the clarification of the statute regarding the program. Missouri law allows the state to reimburse up to $37.50 a day subject to appropriations, though the language establishes a per-day reimbursement rate while funds are appropriated by year. 

Other issues were found with current state laws, such as a disparity between the actual cost of fuel reimbursement, which is based on the number of prisoners in a vehicle rather than actual travel costs, and inconsistent data on what costs are eligible for reimbursement.