SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — In 1976, the Missouri Legislature enacted a state statute that repays counties a portion of an inmate’s entire lockup time if the offender goes to state prison.
Springfield Republican State Senator Bob Dixon, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, says it’s unacceptable for the Missouri Department of Corrections to be six months behind and have a $19 million shortfall in county jail bills.
He tells Missourinet there must be a multi-faceted approach to what he considers a multi-faceted problem.
“Unless we take a holistic approach and we address the whole problem, all we are doing is moving the bottleneck from one part of the system to another,” said Dixon. “I don’t believe in just throwing money at problems, but I do believe when there is a financial problem, we have to deal with it in the short term, which is we need to appropriate more money so that we don’t fall behind on these payments. But, we have to look at the structural issues and have some sort of a long term plan.”
Dixon also thinks Missouri should use a different system to pay counties what they are owed in jail reimbursements.
“When the state is not keeping its commitment, that’s what it is, then the counties cannot operate the way they plan to operate,” said Dixon.
“The counties should not be having to fill out paperwork on each prisoner so they can get their reimbursement. We ought to be sending them a lump sum on a quarterly basis, or something along that line, that they can have some sort of expectation and plan their budget accordingly.”
He says how much each county gets could be based on their crime rate and other factors.
“I would like to see us give more discretion and tighten up the law in places that we can so that the taxpayers are not footing this bill that they don’t want across this state,” said Dixon. “There is no support for raising taxes and we’ve got to reform the system. We cannot live in the 1960s and expect the old systems that were typewriter systems at best, to work in this age of high technology.”
Dixon thinks another element in the overall scope must be to budget more funding to the Missouri Public Defender system. The office has about 370 attorneys who handle more than 80,000 cases annually.
Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class action lawsuit against the state claiming the caseloads that Missouri’s public defenders are dealing with are unconstitutional – pushing many Missourians through the justice system and unnecessarily behind bars for months and sometimes years.
The Missouri Department of Corrections says funding levels, reimbursement schedules and an abundance of invoices have led to jail payment setbacks. Additionally, errors and missing documentation from counties delay the auditing process and could result in slowdowns.
Spokesperson Karen Pojmann tells Missourinet prior to last November, the state lacked appropriate review of its jail reimbursement process, leading to uncertainty in how a $19 million shortage accumulated. The department has hired additional workers focused on carefully auditing such paperwork with the hopes of catching up with the overall deficit.
Republican Governor Eric Greitens, was sworn into office in January. He replaced the term-limited Jay Nixon, a Democrat.
The department received its new $10 million quarterly allowance a week ago and is sending out its latest round of payments. They will be made in the order in which the requests were received, until the money runs out.
(Alisa Nelson, Missourinet)