Under an ordinance passed last month by the Quorum Court, cities in Pulaski County will pay double what they pay now to hold prisoners in the county jail, officials say.
Beginning in January 2020, the county plans to charge $178 per prisoner for the first day of incarceration and $52 for each day after that.
Currently each city pays Pulaski County a different negotiated flat rate to hold its prisoners in the county jail. Those negotiated rates are part of cities' interlocal agreements reached in 2014 and implemented in 2015.
The new rate will replace the rates in those 2014 agreements, and will stand unless the cities negotiate something different with the county, said Cozetta Jones, the county communications director. So far, no city officials have started to push for a new negotiated agreement, but at least a couple are considering it.
The cost of operating the jail is $27 million a year, County Judge Barry Hyde said. Combined, the cities' remittances for holding prisoners add $3 million toward jail operations. The county is responsible for $17 million of the jail's costs. The rest of the funding comes from the payments the jail receives for holding state and federal prisoners.
Hyde says cities have been basically paying half of what the county needs from them for jail operations. "The county can't afford to discount that cost for the benefit of the cities by 50 percent," Hyde said.
He said Pulaski County is raising the jail rates to better reflect the actual cost of holding city prisoners.
"I think things are much easier if they just pay for their share of everything," Hyde said.
Since the jail opened in the early 1990s, Pulaski County and city officials have struggled to determine who is responsible for what costs to operate the jail.
North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith said finding an alternative to paying the higher rates will be the No. 1 priority for his staff in the new year. He plans to get with other cities to negotiate for a lower rate that will allow the cities to pay a set amount for the entire year.
"My City Council likes to know exactly what they're going to pay, not a moving target," Smith said.
The Quorum Court passed the ordinance Nov. 27. It covers cities including Little Rock, North Little Rock, Jacksonville, Sherwood and Maumelle.
The 2014 agreements that went into effect in 2015 required Maumelle to pay $51,247; Sherwood to pay $133,409; North Little Rock to pay $797,752; Jacksonville to pay $201,070; and Little Rock $1,854,576 in 2015. For each subsequent year, the county used the consumer price index as a basis for adjusting the cost to make it the same as the previous year.
The new rate would double Little Rock's payment to about $4 million, Mayor Mark Stodola said. North Little Rock's cost would bump to about $1.8 million, Smith said.
"It's pretty much a jump into the cold water, a shock treatment there," Stodola said.
The 2014 interlocal agreements expire at the end of 2019, Justice of the Peace Curtis Keith said. By implementing the new ordinance at the end of 2018, the county is giving the cities time to prepare their budgets and submit proposed interlocal agreements if they choose, county attorney Adam Fogleman said.
The ordinance is in effect now, but because the 2014 agreements have not expired, the cities will not begin paying the new rates until 2020, Fogleman said.
"The ordinance was adopted [now] to ensure that if there wasn't a renewal [of interlocal agreements] there would still be a funding mechanism in place" for the jail, Fogleman said.
Fogleman said the county decided on the higher rate by looking at last year's budget, at the average number of inmates over the past five years and at the actual costs at the jail.
State law requires that the rate reflect the actual jail costs. In 2018, it cost $67 per inmate, Fogleman said. The state pays about $30 per inmate that it keeps in the jail.
The Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee received a report that included a recommendation that arresting agencies issue citations for some misdemeanors instead of booking everyone who needs to be fingerprinted into the Pulaski County jail, Fogleman said.
Also, the North Little Rock Police Department is looking into installing equipment that would allow its officers, rather than jail officials, to fingerprint, ticket and assign court dates. The hope is that doing so would lower the amount of jail fees. Smith said he does not know how much money such a move could save the city.
The county opened the jail in 1994, said Matthew Briggs, the major who oversees jail operations. The jail averages 24,000 bookings a year. About 36 percent of those people are cited out, and about 64 percent are jailed.
People charged with misdemeanors can be released in as little as six hours, Briggs said. People charged with felonies generally go before a judge within 24 hours. From there, they either are released on bond or stay in jail, sometimes for six months or more as they await trial.
"The lower in significance the charge, the shorter the time they'll be here," Briggs said of the jail.
Briggs said jail officials gauge how many people to incarcerate based on how full the jail is at a particular time.
"The higher our count gets, the wider our gauge gets on what is and is not cite-able," he said.
The jail is at funded capacity at 1,210 people, he said. If the population drops below 900, officials keep more people in the jail.
Metro on 12/23/2018
CORRECTION: The Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee received a report that included a recommendation that arresting agencies issue citations for some misdemeanors instead of booking everyone who needs to be fingerprinted into the Pulaski County jail, County Attorney Adam Fogleman said Friday. An earlier version of this story mischaracterized his remarks on citations.
Print Headline: Pulaski County jail to double cities' rates