Four inmates at the Pratt County Jail had to be moved to a Ford County facility Thursday morning because the jail was full.
For many years the jail has taken in inmates from other facilities and received payment for housing those inmates. At a high point, the jail was bringing in $200,000 a year for housing inmates from other facilities.
Stafford County has no jail and Pratt had been taking their inmates. But things have changed. Until January, the jail ran about 50 percent full on the average. Now it is running 90 percent. The state prison system is out of beds so inmates can't go there.
With an overflow of inmates, Pratt will have to pay other facilities like Ford County to house Pratt inmates, said Pratt County Sheriff Vernon Chinn.
It costs $45 a day to farm out inmates so these four inmates cost the county $180 every day they are at Ford County. That equals $50,000 for an entire year.
"I don't want to send them (inmates) out unless I have to. It's going to be a tremendous financial burden," Chinn said.
Keeping a prisoner in the Pratt jail costs $35 a day at bare minimum with meals costing around $1 a day. That doesn't include any medical bills the county has to cover. With the changes in jail population, it works out to be about $365,000 a year.
The county will have to pay for the care of those prisoners out of an already stretched budget and that budget total is locked in until 2015. Chinn said he would have to put in a request for out-of-county housing out of the general budget.
The majority of inmates in the jail are there for failure to appear, drugs or both and some are chronic offenders. When someone has a failure to appear, the court will order jail time so the court system will know where he or she can be found.
Some inmates are in jail in other counties and miss court dates causing more failure to appear charges. Still others don't mind going to jail for a few months so it doesn't bother them to miss an appearance, Chinn said.
The jail has 10 cells with a 30-bed capacity. Chinn would like to get the occupancy down to 22 or 23 inmates. That used to be a high number but no more. The jail is full or close to full on a regular basis.
Even when the population does get down to a manageable number, the court will sentence another group that will take their place.
"I've seen six, seven or eight come in at once," Chinn said.
And Pratt County is not the only county jail facing this dilemma. It is happening all over the state.
Jails, by definition, are places for short-term incarceration. However, more and more they are housing people for longer periods of time, in some cases a year or even two, while waiting for court appearances in courts that have a staggering case load.
"Their cases are not moving in court," Chinn said. "It's wearing on everybody."
It used to be a balance between those coming in and those going out but terms are getting longer and bonds are not getting reduced. Chronic offenders are also a problem. When they get out, they offend again and get sentenced right back to jail.
The drug culture in the U.S. continues to grow. The Coast Guard measures their drug seizures by the 10 tons, 100 tons or even 1,000 tons.
With that kind of drug demand, the situation is not going to improve. And towns of all sizes, including Pratt, are dealing with drug issues.
A check of the inmates at the Pratt County Sheriff website reveals many of the current inmates were booked for drugs. If this trend continues, the Pratt County Jail will have to double in size within the next few years, Chinn said.
The state is not going to build a new prison so more and more responsibility will fall on the county level. And that means more times when the jail will be full and inmates will have to go elsewhere for housing.
The people in the jail are not teenagers and don't have the self-control to quit so they will continue to use drugs.
The problem is not going to go away and needs to be addressed in the home as early as possible.
"We cannot arrest our way out of this one," Chinn said. "We will have to fix this one home at a time."