Since 1989, Findlay has enjoyed a fixed rate at the Hancock County jail: $55 per day per prisoner.
But like most things, the cost of housing an inmate has gone up over the years and now the Hancock County commissioners want to charge $84, an amount that more closely reflects the actual cost of running the jail.
While the 53 percent increase could cost Findlay, the jail’s biggest user, about $350,000 annually, the county can’t be faulted for upping the per diem, and probably should have adjusted it a decade or so ago.
The jail takes about $3 million to operate each year. The county shouldn’t be expected to subsidize city jail costs.
The price hike isn’t about supply and demand. The jail has run at, or near, its 98-bed capacity since it opened.
Findlay usually accounts for about half the beds. Last year, 1,238 of the 2,148 jail inmates were serving time for violations filed under the city code, meaning the city pays.
The jail had an average daily population of 92 inmates in 2013, but Sheriff Mike Heldman said the per diem rate should still be $84 even if the jail was half-empty, because most of the jail’s operating costs are fixed.
One way the city could reduce its jail fees is if prosecutors charged those arrested by police under the state criminal code instead of the city code. Filing under the state code would mean the county would have to pick up the jail costs.
In such cases, however, the city would not receive any of the fine money that is imposed by the courts.
The city’s jail bill could also drop if it opened an “alternative sentencing center,” an idea the Community Corrections Board is said to be exploring.
Such centers, which were authorized under Ohio law several years ago to help address prison overcrowding, don’t have to meet more rigid jail standards, and are generally less costly to operate.
It remains to be seen, however, if a center would save the city any money, since only certain types of offenders can serve time there.
The city’s work-release program, which it took over from the county several years ago, remains valuable, and collected about $90,000 in fees from offenders last year. But it has not yet been able to break even.
Certainly, the city should continue to explore all its options. But the most cost-effective one may prove to be the one they’ve been using the past 25 years, the county jail.
- The Docket
- Member Service