Counties handcuffed by inmate funding ban
Relief bill unlikely to pass due to fiscal lockdown
Maryland has stopped reimbursing local jails for housing inmates, and now jail officials either want the payments to return or the inmates to go away.
Under a bill being considered by the Maryland Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee, a judge no longer could sentence an individual to serve time in a local correctional facility for more than 12 months. Inmates would have to serve longer sentences in a state facility.
The bill would shift about 1,208 inmates serving time in local jails to state facilities increasing the cost to state correctional facilities by about $11.6 million in fiscal 2011 and perhaps creating the need for a new prison, according to the state's Department of Legislative Services.
Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda, who chairs the Judicial Proceedings Committee, which took up the bill, says it is unlikely to gain traction because of the cost to the state.
However, counties say they cannot afford to pay for the prisoners, either.
Currently, a judge can sentence a criminal to serve in a local or state facility if the sentence is between 12 and 18 months.
Before fiscal 2010, counties were reimbursed for each day an inmate serves in a local jail after 90 days.
Maryland's fiscal 2010 budget eliminated reimbursements, and included a long-term goal of converting to a less-expensive grant program, said Maryland Association of Counties Associate Director Leslie Knapp Jr.
The state also owed the counties about $11.9 million that had not been paid over several years, Knapp said, which was absolved in the fiscal 2010 budget.
Under the grant program, local facilities would receive $45 per day for inmates serving sentences of 12 to 18 months. Knapp said the grant program is unlikely to begin in fiscal 2011 because Gov. Martin O'Malley's (D) budget proposal carries over the zero reimbursement.
"The state took the money they had been providing for 30 full years and left the inmates to county government with no support," said Arthur Wallenstein, director of the Montgomery County Department of Corrections.
The loss of state funding cost Montgomery County $3.4 million in fiscal 2010, Wallenstein said. He said he is unsure how much would be recouped under the Senate bill.
The bill, sponsored by Sens. Jennie M. Forehand (D-Dist. 17) of Rockville and Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington, was heard in committee Wednesday.
"This is a serious concern that really impacts all of our jurisdictions," Forehand said.
The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services opposes the measure.
While Legislative Services says the state's expenses would increase by $11.6 million in fiscal 2011 as a result of the bill, state officials say the cost would be less.
Larry Franklin, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, and Michael Stouffer, commissioner of the state's Division of Corrections, spoke Wednesday in opposition to the bill, saying it would strain services and would cost the state about $7 million in fiscal 2011 and as much as $12 million by fiscal 2014.
The influx of new inmates also could create the need for a new correctional facility operated by the state, which could cost as much as $202 million, according to Legislative Services.
The state operates 24 prisons, and each county has its own jail. The state oversees facilities in Baltimore city.
"It's not us against the state," Wallenstein said. "It's send the prisoners, send the money."
In Anne Arundel County, 159 inmates are sentenced to terms of more than 12 months at county facilities. Legislative Services reports that the bill would save the county $1.3 million annually.
In Howard County, the bill would decrease county expenditures by $321,800 annually, according to Legislative Services.
Mary Lou McDonough, director of the Prince George's County Department of Corrections, says the loss of state money has cost her facility about $2.5 million in fiscal 2010.
Her jail had 1,270 inmates as of Thursday afternoon, and 144 of them were serving sentences of between 12 and 18 months, she said. She estimates that population is costing her facility about $17,000 a day.
McDonough said 35 other states have set a 12-month maximum sentence for inmates in local jails.
Frosh said he was told not to pass any bills out of committee that have a fiscal impact on the state without approval from the Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee meaning the bill is unlikely to gain support.
"You can draw your own conclusion, but this is a year in which the General Assembly is looking to find cuts, not looking to fund additional programs," Frosh said.
"I think a lot of people on the committee would like to support [the legislation], but we can't pass bills with fiscal notes."