Growing jail population squeezes prisoner boarding program

Increase in local inmates attributed to surge in crime related to drugs
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press staff

Years ago, the Ozaukee County Jail used to rake in millions of dollars from boarding federal and state inmates. But that ended in 2013, and even though the county is back boarding some state inmates, the revenue doesn’t approach what it did before.

And that’s not likely to change because the beds once used by those inmates are now occupied by those arrested here at home, a byproduct of increasing crime in Ozaukee County.

“I can only take 35,” Sheriff Jim Johnson said, compared to 80 or 90 just five years ago.

“We have a lot of people with addictiions, alcohol and opioids, in our county and people with mental illness,” Johnson said. I would guess that 70% of my current jail population has some kind of addiction or mental illness.”

It wasn’t long ago the county jail had no state inmates. But in the last year and a half, revenue from state inmates has increased 10-fold.

In March 2017, when the county signed a contract with the state Department of Corrections to house up to 25 state inmates a month, the county got about $5,000 a month. This past October, boarding revenue had risen to about $57,000. It topped out at about $71,000 in May and June this year, according to county figures.

In January 2018, the number contracted to be taken increased to 35. There have been some months, however, in which the number of state boarders has been as high as 44.

The Ozaukee County Jail typically holds state prisoners for 120 to 180 days before transferrng them to a state facility, jail Superintendent Capt. Jeff Sauer said.

Total jail population averages 200 to 225 inmates each day, records show. 

Johnson said under the county budget, $200,000 from boarding revenue goes toward supporting jail operations. Beyond that, any money goes to help pay for capital projects.

While the increased revenue is welcome, it’s nowhere near the $1.7 million or so the county earned each year when it housed 80 to 90 federal and state prisoners each month until 2013, Johnson said.

“Then we started losing everything,” Johnson said, explaining that President Barack Obama’s administration transferred federal prisoners to the president’s home state of Illinois. At the same time, in an unrelated move, the state no longer needed beds at the Ozaukee County facility.

“That definitely had an impact,” Johnson said.

County Administrator Jason Dzwinel agreed.

“The county relied heavily on boarding revenues to offset the costs of our jail operations until 2013 when the federal revenue stream ended and presented a very significant budget challenge that impacted departmental budgets and staff countywide,” Dzwinel said in an email. 

Not wanting to get caught again relying on boarding revenue to cover operations, county officials now use most of that money for capital projects.

“With the new revenue stream from the state, Sheriff Johnson and I had a shared goal to put the revenues to proper use, while mitigating the budget risk that we experienced in 2013 by earmarking the funds for non-operational projects,” Dzwinel said. 

Johnson said the county will launch a study next year on how to tackle the growing jail population.

“We want to see what our trends and the national trends are,” he said. 

One possible approach would be to again expand the jail. And taking in additional boarders might be a way to help pay for it. But after what happened in 2013, county officials aren’t so sure.

“Boarding revenue would be one of many options that we would explore in the discussion about jail upgrades,” Dzwinel said. “It is a revenue source that can fluctuate. For that reason, I’m not sure how neatly it would fit into financing the upgrades. The county would need to take a conservative look at that as a long-term option.” 

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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