Convicted felons parked in county jails are easy for the state to ignore: They’re out of sight and off the state’s books. But Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn is right to keep reminding lawmakers that the state is responsible not only for these inmates but also for the cost of locking them up. Legislators also need to be reminded regularly that they shouldn’t pass tough-on-crime bills without funding them.
Those convicted of misdemeanors once served time in county jails while felons went to state prisons. But “county jails are now becoming adjunct housing facilities” for the Kansas Department of Corrections, Peterjohn complained in a letter emailed to all lawmakers and addressed to Rep. Pat Colloton, RLeawood, who chairs the Joint Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice Oversight.
Peterjohn noted that the county spends $66 a day to house each of the 200 or so such state inmates in the Sedgwick County Jail — convicted of felony driving while suspended, felony DUI, forgery and other crimes. “If the state is unable to house their convicted felons and wishes to house felons under the sheriff’s custody here,” Peterjohn wrote, “Sedgwick County should be fully reimbursed for the cost of this housing.”
In response, Colloton told The Eagle: “I wish the state could afford to help the local county jails, but we don’t have the money to do that.” But that makes it sound as if the state would be doing counties a favor, rather than fulfilling its obligation, by picking up these prisoners or at least their tab.
Peterjohn should keep up the pressure, which stands to help Sedgwick County stave off another jail expansion. The state’s budget problem is serious, but counties that don’t complain while the state takes advantage of them invite more such abuse.