How counties are forking over money for pre-trial felons for time served

Mark Payne
Mark Payne
Mark Payne is the government and politics reporter for LINK nky. Email him at [email protected]

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When an inmate is in jail before sentencing, the county they are housed in assumes the cost. 

In unusual cases, pre-trial felons who spend a long time in jail before their sentencing can rack up high bills for the counties where they are housed.

One of those unusual cases in Campbell County was Shayna Hubers, who was found guilty of murdering her then-boyfriend Ryan Poston in his Highland Heights apartment. Hubers was in the Campbell County Detention Center as a pretrial felon for 1,827 days.

If her stay had happened now, with the current per diem rate of $35.34, Hubers would’ve cost the taxpayers of Campbell County $64,566.18.

But those working in the Kentucky Department of Corrections hope to change this with a new law introduced during the 2022 legislative session that would instead cause the state to foot the bill.

“Under the current law, the time spent in custody prior to sentencing is a cost that is incurred by the county that houses the inmate in their jail,” said Allison Brown, assistant general counsel for the Department of Corrections, during an Interim Joint Committee Meeting on Local Government.

Under the current law, the state only starts paying for the inmate once the sentencing is decided.

House Bill 211 says that if a person is convicted of a felony, and their sentence for that conviction includes the amount of time they spent in custody prior to conviction, the jail will receive a payment for each day the person spent in custody from the date they were arrested until the date they were sentenced.

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“Time spent in custody prior to sentencing is what is commonly referred to as jail credit,” Brown said.

The bill never made it out of committee but was due for an informational meeting, though the corrections impact statement wasn’t ready. The goal of bringing in Brown, along with Amanda Sayle, the director of offender services at the  Department of Corrections, was to get testimony along with the statement.

The legislature could move forward with the bill when the General Assembly returns for session in January.

Data from the Department of Corrections shows that from 2017 to 2021, there was an average of 129.4 days of jail credit for people sentenced to incarceration. During that same period, there was an average of 11,809 people placed on probation each year.

“If you multiply that by the new per diem of $34.35 per day, that will equate to just over 54 million in reimbursement costs for people placed on probation,” Brown said, noting that in 2021 the average number of days of jail credit increased to 173.5 days. The number of people placed on probation also increased to 13,615. The DOC doesn’t know if this is due to COVID-19 or if this will be the norm moving forward.

“If you use those numbers and multiply it by the per diem of $35.34 per day, that will equate to $83.48 million for people placed on probation,” Brown said.

There are currently 118 pretrial felons in Campbell County, according to Campbell County Jailer and President of the Kentucky Jailers Association James Daley.

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“I’m designed to hold 656 inmates,” Daley said. “Today, I’m at about 350. If we were at full capacity, as you can imagine, these numbers would be significantly higher. Normally, I’m at about 230 to 240 pretrial felons.”

Pretrial felons are held anywhere from a couple of days to more than two years, he said.

“Campbell County taxpayers are paying for that,” Daley said, noting that the costs include transportation, meals, electric, water, and everything else required to support an inmate during their stay.

“Once the trial is complete, Campbell County taxpayers will suffer the loss for that incarceration, as long as Corrections doesn’t have to pay for that free trial time,” Daley said.

While Hubers isn’t the only case, the cost on taxpayers is adding up.

“The list goes on and on and on,” Daley said. “So, it’s a big deal.That’s local taxpayer dollars that are being paid to support people that are given credit for that time.”

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