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Thu, Aug. 22

Housing inmates elsewhere may not hurt county

KINGMAN - Figuring out how much the county may lose with the cities shipping their inmates to other jails is not as easy as looking at last year's expenses.

In August, Mohave County increased the rate it charges the three cities to house their inmates in the county jail from $79.46 to $88.82 per inmate per day, plus a $65 booking fee for each inmate. The increase is supposed to cover the cost of operating the new county jail, which is nearly three times the size of the old one.

All three cities signed a contract with Mohave County in August, but that didn't prevent them from looking for a better deal elsewhere.

Lake Havasu and Kingman city councils have approved contracts with La Paz County to house inmates. Bullhead City Council is considering sending all of its inmates to the Fort Mohave Indian Tribe's jail, which it already has a contract with.

How much of a hit the county will take from the cities housing their inmates in other jails depends on a number of factors, including the number of inmates, what the inmates are charged with, state mandated healthcare, food, clothing, utilities and staffing, Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan said.

This year's budget included $10.5 million to cover the cost of operating the jail, he said.

The county is using revenue from a sales tax that was approved by voters several years ago to pay off the debt to build the new jail.

The number of inmates in the jail fluctuates on a daily basis, Sheahan said. Last month, the county averaged around 460 inmates. This month, the jail has an average population of around more than 500 inmates.

The majority of inmates are charged with felonies, he said. Felony cases are usually handled by county courts and the cost to house felony inmates is usually paid for by the county until they are found not guilty and released, or found guilty, sentenced and transported to a state prison.

The inmates that the jails house from the cities are usually charged with misdemeanor offenses, which are usually handled by the municipal courts, Sheahan said. Their stay is paid for by the cities.

In December, the jail housed 136 misdemeanor inmates from Kingman, 76 inmates from Bullhead City, 23 inmates from Lake Havasu City, 186 misdemeanor inmates from the county and 28 misdemeanor inmates from the Arizona Department of Public Safety, he said.

In that same month, the jail housed 41 inmates accused of a felony crime from Kingman, 39 from the Bullhead area, 31 from Lake Havasu, 71 from the county, 20 from DPS and 12 from the Mohave County Probation Department, he said.

Sheahan explained that some of the inmates might have more than one charge against them.

The inmate population also depends on what type of sentence a judge gives a person who has been found guilty of a crime, Sheahan said. The only inmates that are sentenced to a prison term of a year or less are housed in the jail after they are sentenced. Inmates with more than a year's worth of time are sent to the state prisons.

Several people have suggested that the county sign a contract with the federal government to temporarily house federal prisoners in order to defray some of the jail's operating costs, he said. But Sheahan isn't keen on the idea, which comes with additional requirements and risks.

Sheahan said his office plans to keep an eye on the inmate population, and the cost to house them over the next few months in order to determine the cost to operate the jail for next year's budget.

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