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From the Sheriff's Desk

 Sheriff Dickerson's regular commentary on issues affecting the Sheriff's Office.  For the Sheriff's archived comments from previous years, click on the associated year below.

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February 18, 2016

There are those out there who continue to mischaracterize the nature of support we receive for our budget from the rental of beds to the United States Marshal for the detention of federal prisoners. One such mischaracterization appeared in last week’s “Letters” section of the Spotlight:

If it costs Columbia County taxpayers $125 per bed to operate the jail at full capacity and rent beds to the U.S. Marshals Office for $90, then the Columbia County taxpayers are responsible for paying the $35 difference.

We have always maintained that the cost to add federal prisoners to the overall cost of running the jail is negligible in the grand scheme of things, and that adding federal prisoners to our jail at $80 per inmate per night actually drives down the cost of jail operations to County taxpayers.

To understand how this is so, one must first comprehend that our primary mission in operating the jail is to keep Columbia County a safe place to live, work and recreate by maintaining a lawful, humane and effective incarceration facility that is also a safe and secure environment for local offenders.

If we did not need to keep local offenders accountable, we would not need to operate a jail, no matter how many federal beds we could rent out.  The challenge that confining federal offenders  presents in our facility is not one we want to take on unless the funding they provide to our services is a net financial benefit to the County.

So the question is: How much does it cost to provide such a facility for local offenders only?  Once we determine what that cost is, we can then ask how much more it costs to add beds for the use of the U.S. Marshal’s Service to house its prisoners.

Instead of making that analysis ourselves, we asked the Jail Operations Citizens Advisory Committee to review our numbers and come up with its own findings.  Those findings will be contained in a report from the committee later this year.  However, given the continued misunderstanding of our budget that is out there, I want to provide a brief description of the conclusions the committee will provide, along with a brief description of how the committee arrived at those conclusions.

The primary costs to provide safety and security for the jail are employee costs, and those costs are roughly the same (except for some minor clerical changes). In order to provide safety and security to the jail with 70 local prisoners, or to do the same for 135 local and federal prisoners combined changes very little—when it comes to the cost of labor inside the facility.  This is because we have posts inside the jail that must be filled on three shifts per day.  These posts are necessary and do not change whether we have 70 prisoners or 135 prisoners.  In addition to employee costs, changes in medical costs between 70 or 135 prisoners are negligible, as well.

There are some savings to be found in clerical costs, utility costs and food costs.  But, in what would be a $5.3 million budget in 2015-16 for housing local prisoners only, becomes an approximately $5.5 million budget when you add the federal prisoners.  This computes roughly to an additional cost of $11 per night per federal inmate—when the USM is paying $80 per night per inmate.

This drives the cost per inmate down in the scenario developed by the writer of the letter to editor quoted above.  Without federal inmates, the committee found that the cost per inmate per night is roughly $181 per night, but by adding the service to the USM—who pays to keep their prisoners—the cost per inmate per night goes down.

Another way to see this in broad terms is that, in this year’s budget, USM was projected to provide $1.6 million to the cost of operating the jail.  If we take that money away, we do not have enough revenue to operate the jail at minimum capacity without an additional $1.4 million from the taxpayer. 


Federal bed rentals save the local taxpayer money.  We have NO other motive in providing this service than to drive down the cost of providing a jail to LOCAL prisoners.






Last Updated on Friday, 26 February 2016 15:17