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Clarifying the role of federal inmates at jail

Columbia County Sheriff Jeff Dickerson contributes a weekly informational article about Sheriff's Office and Columbia County Jail funding


It costs a lot of money to run a jail.

Jails costs millions of dollars to run, because we have to pay enough staff and provide enough financial support to comply with the law.

by: FILE PHOTO - DickersonIn Columbia County, there is no longer enough money to run our jail. In fact, our jail should have closed years ago, except for one thing: We have rented beds to the federal government, which has brought millions of dollars into our county to keep the jail open.

If we could have run the jail without federal prisoners, we would have done so. These prisoners are very difficult to manage and their numbers have stressed our limited staffing to the limit.

Instead, we used the revenue from these bed rentals to keep the jail open and make its cost much less to the county taxpayer. Some think that the millions of dollars the U. S. Marshals Service pays to house its prisoners here isn’t enough and that we should make them pay more.

The Marshals Service, however, tells us how much they will pay, and we decide if it is worth it or not. In my view, it has been worth it, because it has made it possible to keep the jail open all these years when the county was spending much less on the jail than the federal government was.

Without those federal bed rental payments, the cost of the levy to the taxpayer would be closer to $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value, instead of the 58 cents per $1,000 that the levy is asking for.

Some people have been confused about figures thrown around about the “cost per day” to house one inmate. Just know that the “cost per day per inmate” is mostly dependent on the number of inmates we have in our jail. The more inmates we have, the cost per inmate per day goes down.

The only way to lower the cost per inmate is to have more inmates. If the levy passes, we will be able keep our jail open and do so at a lower cost per inmate.