Starting in December, Edgar County will pay room and board to keep incarcerated people in the jails of neighboring counties.
The announcement of the Dec. 1 jail closing came during the Monday, Nov. 4, Edgar County Board study session. No vote has been taken but the decision is largely out of board members’ hands since the county’s insurance provider is refusing to cover the building as a penal facility after that date.
County board chairman Jeff Voigt said the insurance company will continue to cover the building for use as an administrative center for the sheriff’s department and as the 911 emergency call center, but it cannot house inmates in any portion of the building. Even booking cannot be done there, although there is some leeway for temporarily holding prisoners during court days.
“The insurance company said it could no longer insure the jail under its current condition of maintenance,” said board member Karl Farnham Jr.
Farnham added the decision came abruptly Friday, Nov. 1, after a week of talks between the county and the local agents and others about finding a way to keep the building in service. He said it appeared an agreement was in place but during the Nov. 1 call the insurance representatives said company executives axed the plan.
This is not a complete surprise as the insurance company informed the county in early September about concerns. Still, it gives the county a little under a month to work out all of the agreements with neighboring jurisdictions about accepting Edgar County inmates.
Voigt said some of that work was already underway as a backup plan with him discussing the issue with neighboring county board chairmen and Sheriff Jeff Wood contacting other sheriffs.
“We have some things to work out,” said Voigt.
Wood said five area sheriffs are agreeable to helping as much as possible while Edgar County works through this process and one facility indicated it will provide booking service for a temporary period, if necessary.
“They won’t do it for a year,” said Wood.
Other issues to resolve are personnel changes at the sheriff’s department as a result of the closing. It was announced an administrator and chief deputy is joining the department Nov. 11 to help with much of this transition. The name of the new hire was not released because the individual still has to close out matters with a current employer.
Voigt presented the proposed 2020 budget with revisions based on this development. For example, the county’s insurance bill will drop by approximately $50,000 but the sheriff’s budget is going up from $1.223 million for 2019 to $1.376 million for 2020. That includes $382,000 allotted for housing and transporting prisoners. The county is also buying a used van and installing security inserts to accommodate transportation.
“It’s going to be a drag on the city and other departments because they will have to transport anybody they arrest out of the county to another jail,” said Voigt.
It will also be a drag on the county. Wood explained if, for example, the Chrisman Police Department makes an arrest and transports somebody to the jail handling booking duties for Edgar County, but if that jail is full, it becomes the sheriff department’s responsibility to go and take the individual to another jail where there is room after the booking is complete.
“Their (other county departments) responsibility is to get the prisoner there and that’s where it ends. Everything else falls on us,” said Wood.
Farnham added this is going to strain manpower of all the local police departments with officers on the road taken arrested people to a distant jail for booking.
“If Paris makes five arrests in a day, that’s five times an officer has to travel out of the county,” said Farnham.