BILLINGS - If other counties are going to use the Yellowstone County jail to house their prisoners, they can help pay for jail expansion costs.
That was the thinking behind the Yellowstone County Commission’s decision Tuesday to hike the daily housing rate for out-of-county prisoners from $85 a day to $100 a day.
The $100 daily rate includes increased fiscal year 2015 jail costs of $94.44, said Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder. The remaining $5.56 will help fund an estimated $7 million jail expansion.
The new rate will take effect Aug. 1.
“Unfortunately, jail costs continue to outpace the ability to fund them,” Linder said in a memo to commissioners. “Other agencies that use Yellowstone County’s detention facility must share in the responsibility of funding the detention costs and expansion needs.”
The commission quickly voted unanimously to approve the higher rate.
Carbon County Undersheriff Dan McJunkin said the increase “won’t change anything for us. It’s still the closest jail for us.”
The new rate will not affect contracts the county has with the state of Montana or with the the U.S. Marshals Service to house state or federal prisoners, said Scott Turner, county finance director.
The county, Turner said, is in talks with the state on rates and has a three-year contract with the feds.
The new rate will affect counties and some other agencies that use the jail to house their prisoners. Yellowstone County has more discretion in setting jail rates for those agencies, Turner said.
The two primary counties that will be paying the higher rate are Stillwater and Carbon. The new rate will raise an estimated $34,000 a year from those two counties based on what they paid last year, Turner said.
Stillwater County last year housed an average of 9.5 prisoners a day in the jail and paid the county a total of $296,000, Turner said. The new rate would cost Stillwater an additional $19,000 a year.
Carbon County housed an average of 7.6 prisoners a day and paid a total of $236,300, Turner said. The new rate will cost Carbon an additional $15,000 a year.
Yellowstone County is planning a 100-bed expansion for female prisoners but has not yet identified how it will pay for the estimated $7 million project. Funding possibilities include using county funds, loans and property tax increases through voter-approved bonds.
“We are trying to find the funding to do it without having to go to a vote,” Turner said.
The jail’s rated capacity is 286 inmates. The jail uses programs, like the 24/7 drunken-driving program and a labor detail, to reduce the population and keep the daily census at about 430 to 460 inmates.
Earlier this month, the jail had 491 inmates, including 17 female inmates on the floor, on a Monday morning, which is typically a high-census day because of weekend arrests.
The jail has not hit 500 inmates a day, yet, but has come close. “It’s not too far off,” Linder said. The highest census he’s seen was 497 inmates.
The jail would need to be housing well over 500 inmates a day if not for the 24/7 and labor programs, the sheriff said. About 150 people who would otherwise be in jail participate in those programs, he said.