Since 1981 the St. Francois County Jail has housed federal inmates on their way to sentencing or returning to the general prison population, but Sheriff Dan Bullock recently said that will no longer be the case.
Bullock said the U.S. Marshals Service is the department that arranges accommodation for federal inmates in local jails like his.
“You negotiate a contract with the U.S. Marshals to keep federal inmates,” Bullock said. “A lot of those inmates are either coming through to go before a federal judge or they’ve been sentenced and they’re going back out into the population.”
In exchange for housing federal inmates, jails are compensated by federal authorities for the cost as part of the initial contract negotiation. The amount negotiated for is a per diem rate for each federal inmate and not a yearly amount. The jail is compensated for each federal inmate housed and for each day the inmate is housed.
For the St. Francois County Jail, the total amount was projected to be around $500,000 in 2017.
“We negotiate a number, as does everybody that keeps federal inmates,” Bullock said. “It’s not a flat amount across the board. Everybody does their own negotiating depending on the cost to house prisoners and to feed them.”
As part of the agreement, the U.S. Marshals will periodically inspect contracted facilities and require a standard of housing, food or privilege for federal inmates, requirements which do not affect local inmates.
“They come down and audit your jail every so often, and have done for years,” Bullock said. “They’ll say, ‘You might want to tweak this or do that.’ And they’ll give you 30 days, for example, then they’ll come back.”
Bullock said the arrangement has worked smoothly for decades until recently.
“The problem we started having with federal inmates is they wanted them to be treated differently than other prisoners,” Bullock said. “Special privileges, extra and special food — there was just no end to it. And it kept getting worse and worse.”
Bullock said he refused to further comply with the requirements imposed by the U.S. Marshals, prompting the federal authorities to end the agreement.
“Evidently, there’s a new mentality right now,” Bullock said. “I’m not running a Hilton Hotel here, and it’s not going to be that. I treat federal inmates the same as our local prisoners. They get three meals a day and their medical needs taken care of, and that’s about as far as I’m willing to go with it. They were pushing the issue, and it’s come down to the point that we’re not keeping them anymore.”
The lost funding did more than cover just the cost of the federal inmates themselves. It also helped to supplement the jail’s normal operating costs.
“It’s going to cost us some money,” Bullock said. “We were using that money to offset the cost of keeping our other local and state inmates. Part of offsetting the loss will be that we won’t be transporting federal inmates or giving them their special food, so we’ll have some vast savings there. We also have some plans to have some other ways of bringing in some revenue, so hopefully we’ll offset that cost.”
Of the projected $500,000 for fiscal year 2017, the sheriff’s department had taken in more than $300,000 before the agreement was ended.
Bullock said the jail was additionally overcrowded, and will benefit from having no federal inmates taking up cells that could be used to house local inmates. The change may present some financial challenges for the department, but Bullock said a line had to be drawn at some point.
“We’ll have to tighten our belts a little and curb our spending to stay under our budget,” Bullock said. “But we’ll survive. We’ll still be here.”
“I’m not running a Hilton Hotel here, and it’s not going to be that. I treat federal inmates the same as our local prisoners. They get three meals a day and their medical needs taken care of, and that’s about as far as I’m willing to go with it. They were pushing the issue, and it’s come down to the point that we’re not keeping them anymore.” Dan Bullock, St. Francois County sheriff
Jacob Scott is a reporter with the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616 or at email@example.com.