POLICE D.A. SAUK COUNTY WISCONSIN / Sauk County Sheriff- Sheriff Scandal in Sauk County rebuttal to Baraboos News Republic ...

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From: Tom Kriegl
Date: August 13, 2004

Part one in a series of three articles written by Tom Kriegl, member of the Finance Committee of the Sauk County Board to supply additional facts to the front page article in the August 13, 2004 edition of the Baraboo News Republic, titled "The Jail is Making Money Now".

The front page article in the August 13, 2004 edition of the Baraboo News Republic, titled "The Jail is Making Money Now" provides an incomplete picture of the finances of the Sauk County jail. To make the picture more complete, let’s look at additional facts.

The increased net costs associated with the new jail explain much of the increase in the dollars of county property tax levy from 2000 to 2004. Jails and prisons have caused similar increases in the state budget and in the budgets of many other counties.

In 2004, about $7.3 million of Sauk County property and/or sales taxes will be spent for the gross cost of Sauk County jail functions (includes debt service and heating and cooling—two items that are not included in the Sheriff’s Department budget in 2004). In 2000, about $1.9 million of Sauk County property taxes were spent for the gross cost of Sauk County jail functions including renting jail space from other counties. If you describe this change from 2000 to 2004 as "The Jail is Making Money Now", you need to read the rest of my article in which I’ll discuss net costs and other items.

All of the facts and numbers I’m using are public information. I can show how all of them were collected and/or calculated. Many of the numbers are slightly rounded.

I am in my second term on the Finance Committee of the Sauk County Board. The new Sauk County Law Enforcement Center (jail) construction was well under way (began late in 2001 and finished about mid 2003) by the time I was first elected to the County Board. As a relatively new board member, I was very frustrated to be expected to vote on jail staffing with information that was far less complete than it should have been. I gathered information from the Sheriff’s Dept, Accounting Dept, county budget books, consultants’ reports and other places. I designed two computer spreadsheets to calculate the daily cost per cell and inmate along with total costs, fixed costs, and variable costs for about any set of circumstances facing the jail.

In accounting, profit is calculated by subtracting expenses or cost from income or revenue. The term "making money" used in the August 13, 2004 article is rather non-specific. In my experience, when people use the terminology "making money" they are thinking more in terms of profit than in terms of income alone.

Now lets talk about net costs (gross costs minus non-tax revenue, most of which is rent) of jail functions in 2000 and 2004.

The August 13, 2004 article states that $459, 000 of rent was paid by out of county inmates through July 2004. On the surface, this rent should reduce the gross cost of about $7.3 million to a net cost of $6, 841, 000. The article indicated that other counties were paying $52 per inmate per day to rent Sauk County jail space. Ten dollars of that $52 per inmate per day rent is immediately used up for food, laundry etc for the renting inmate. I haven’t verified whether the $459, 000 rent collected was based on the gross rent ($52) or net rent ($42). If it is based on gross rent, then the $459, 000 shrinks to about $370, 000 of net rent. Either number is much smaller than the $7.3 million gross cost in the 2004 budget.

With five months of 2004 left, Sauk County could collect another $3-400, 000 of jail rent revenue, reducing the gross cost of the jail to a net cost of about $6.5 million in 2004.

Sauk County inmates in the Huber part of the jail also pay $15 per day (this was also true in 2000). At least some of the Huber inmates are not able to make that payment. But let’s assume that 79 Huber inmates (the count on June 15, 2004) pay $15/day for 365 days. This would generate another $432, 525 of revenue to reduce the 2004 net cost to about $6.06 million. Revenue from the Huber unit would be similar in 2000, reducing the gross cost that year to a net cost of about $1.47 million.

It is helpful to know that most fines imposed by the Sheriffs Department are collected by the Clerk of Court and appears as revenue to the "clerk" in the county budget. A bit less than a million dollars a year is collected from this source.

It is unrealistic to expect to make a profit from operating a jail, or to operate a jail without using some tax dollars. But few people would call an increase from $1.47 million to $6.06 million in net cost to the county property tax levy "making money". We should be careful about how much we spend to own and operate jails and prisons.

Part Two in a series of three articles written by Tom Kriegl, member of the Finance Committee of the Sauk County Board to supply additional facts to the front page article in the August 13, 2004 edition of the Baraboo News Republic, titled "The Jail is Making Money Now".

Part one explained that the net cost of Sauk County jail functions more than tripled from 2000 to 2004.

The August 13th article says, "The Sauk County Jail is bringing in money by housing inmates, while before the county was losing money because inmates had to be sent to other counties." Again compare this statement to more facts, which show that the daily total cost per inmate of owning and operating "the jail" is higher than the rent paid per day.

The combined average daily head count of Sauk County inmates in the Huber Center (work release unit) and maximum security unit was 147 in April 2004, 137 in May 2004, and 153 in June 2004, compared to a combined maximum capacity of 369. The 2004 three month average head count of 146 is about 24 inmates less than detained by Sauk County in Nov. 2002 and about four less than detained in Dec. 2002. These head counts do not include the 40-60 inmates housed from other counties. While it defeats the Huber concept to house Huber inmates far from home, lets pretend for a moment that Sauk County doesn’t have any jail, making it necessary to rent space for all (assume 150) Sauk County inmates for an entire year at a cost of $59 per inmate day ($59 equals rent of $52 plus $6 transportation cost and $1 medical cost per inmate rental day). The cost would be about $3.23 million for 2004 compared to the $7.3 million gross cost and $6.5 to $6.06 million net cost that Sauk County will pay in 2004 and for many following years. Knowing this, we don’t even need my complex spreadsheets to see that the gross cost per Sauk County inmate day paid by Sauk County in 2004 will be over $127 per day. After accounting for the expected revenue from renting jail space to other counties in 2004 (leading to a net annual cost of $6.06 million) the net cost per Sauk County inmate day reduces to over $110. This is a more correct way to look at the impact on the Sauk County budget than to divide the annual net cost by the combined Sauk County and out-of county inmates (assume an average of 200 inmates per day).

Having established this point, I hasten to say that for the two parts of the jail that are already fully staffed but about half full with Sauk County inmates, renting excess space is a good idea because for each inmate day of rent, we gain $52 of revenue and about $10 of cost—gaining $42 per inmate day to defray other existing costs.

The more of those spaces we rent, the more the net cost (and tax burden) can be reduced. Of course careful readers have already figured out that the best we can do in 2004 is to reduce the net cost to about $6 million unless we can enact preventative and rehabilitative programs that reduce the number of inmate days used by Sauk County inmates and replace them with inmates from other counties.

Even if all spaces were rented to other counties at market rental rates, total costs would exceed total rental income.

The fact that renting excess space in the already staffed parts of the jail is a good idea, doesn’t automatically mean that the current jail design, configuration or size was a good idea.

Part Three in a series of three articles written by Tom Kriegl, member of the Finance Committee of the Sauk County Board to supply additional facts to the front page article in the August 13, 2004 edition of the Baraboo News Republic, titled "The Jail is Making Money Now".

The August 13, 2004 article mentions another unit of the jail that is not open. Every proposal made so far to open the empty unit would raise property taxes. My spreadsheets show that the added cost of opening the final jail unit would exceed the added rental revenue it could earn at any reasonable rate of capacity at the rental rates that other counties are willing to pay. Under the proposals I’ve seen for opening the empty unit, The gross cost of Sauk County jail functions would increase from the $7.3 million budgeted in 2004, to near$9 million. The net cost would increase from about $6.06 million in 2004 to some where between $7 and 8 million. This is not what I call "making money". If we are going to increase the county tax levy by one or two million, I can think of far better ways to use the increase.

Hiring new staff to open the empty unit is quite a different matter compared to adding renting inmates to fill a fully staffed unit. New staff was hired and paid to be trained for several weeks before the first inmate was placed in the new maximum security unit. This increases the first year costs. The same would likely be true for the unit that is still empty.

People need to understand that the employee compensation needed to operate any of the jail units is about 60% of all costs. It takes less than six years of employee compensation added up for a face value cost that exceeds the cost of building the unit. It is extremely hard to justify opening the empty unit under circumstances in which the added costs exceed the added revenue.

It is clear that, at least for society, crime doesn’t pay. It also is clear that locking violators up and throwing away the key is very expensive. In fact this approach followed more in Wisconsin than in Minnesota helps explain why;

There is no discernable difference in the level of public safety and total population between Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Minnesota is spending far less for about the same results in corrections. Wisconsin now spends about two times as much money on corrections as Minnesota, (about one-half billion dollars more a year now).

Wisconsin now spends four times as much money on corrections as Wisconsin spent in 1990.

Much of this problem was created by legislation supported by Governor Thompson and state legislators.

The August 13, 2004 article also discusses an increased emphasis on rehabilitation of inmates in the new jail. I do applaud an increased emphasis on rehabilitation, counseling, etc. in an effort to reduce the number of repeat offenders, especially in the juvenile category. It is a direction we need to pursue. There are a number of places, even in the state of Wisconsin that have implemented this approach to achieve far more favorable results at less cost than achieved via the automatic locking them up and throwing away the key method and this is being achieved in places with old and limited facilities. In fact, the Sauk County Board heard a presentation at the August Board meeting from the Justice System Administrator in Monroe County describing a successful program in Wisconsin that has achieved such results. One place in which Monroe County has substantially reduced costs is in their approach to dealing with juvenile delinquents.

In most years, Sauk County has spent more money renting "jail space" for juveniles than for adults. Even with the new jail, Sauk County rents space (mainly in La Crosse) for juvenile offenders. Even though the daily jail rental rate for juvenile offenders is about $167 (about three times the adult rate) plus transportation, many agree that it would likely cost Sauk County taxpayers more to own and operate a juvenile detention unit here. One of the facts that makes this disturbing is that we can educate about 10 juveniles for the cost of jailing one juvenile for a year. At the $59 per adult inmate day rental rate, we can educate about 3-4 juveniles for a year.

What we have to ask is, are we more interested in punishing people after they have violated a law (and yes I know that not all crime can be prevented and not all violators can be changed) or are we more interested in preventing crime, redirecting offenders and achieving as much or more public safety for fewer tax dollars?

What we need now are more policy makers and justice system professionals at the local, state and federal level who have the vision to see the possibilities and the courage to implement them.

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