Findlay and Hancock County are figuring out how much the city owes the county for housing its inmates and representing them in court.
Whatever arrangements are worked out, the city is going to owe considerably more this year than last.
Another thing is inevitable: The city’s criminal justice tab is only going to keep growing.
The huge jump this year in criminal housing costs is because the county raised its inmate fee from $55 to $84 per day, a 53 percent increase.
While the sticker shock is understandable — the new rate will cost the city $350,000 more this year alone — someone should have seen it coming.
The city, after all, had been paying the $55 rate for 25 years.
The city is fortunate the county hadn’t imposed annual rate increases. The county probably should have.
Findlay officials have been slow to pay the new rate, in part, due to concerns they are being charged the full-day rate when a prisoner is there less than 24 hours. They also believe if they’re picking up the tab, that sheriff’s deputies, not police officers, should transport city inmates elsewhere if there is no space at the jail.
Both concerns, it seems to us, should be easily worked out. The county should bend.
As for the indigent defense bill, the city appears to be getting a good deal from the county. The commissioners have requested just a $5,000 increase to the $90,000 they charged in 2013.
Under the proposal, the city would pay just $132 per case, or about 52 percent of the actual cost.
The unanswered question is how much the state reimbursement to the county for running the public defender’s office should factor in. Such figures should be readily available from the state Public Defender’s Office and easily calculated.
The city may want to accept the $5,000 increase before the county sees the numbers.
The two bills should prompt discussion about what can be done, if anything, to reduce the number of city inmates who serve time in the jail. It may also be time to conduct an analysis of operating a public defender’s office versus a system where attorneys are appointed to indigent defendants.
Years ago, when the decision was made to go with a public defender office, the lower cost-per-case estimate was a main selling point. We have to believe the public defender is still going to provide the best bang for the buck for both the city and county.
There’s no getting around the high cost of criminal justice. Every year, it takes a substantial amount out of the county and city operating funds to pay for law enforcement, the courts, probation and jail.
The county erred by failing to adjust the daily fee it charged the city to house its inmates until now. Such costs should be reviewed annually. The city may not want to complain too much about the indigent defense bill.
We trust the issues will get resolved and the bills paid. It’s not a question that the city owes the county money, but how much.
In the future, the city will simply have to budget more. Unfortunately, criminals aren’t going away and neither are the bills to take care of them.
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