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Counties ask for $10M reimbursement from state for county jail strains

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The Association of County Commissions of Alabama is asking for a $10 million reimbursement from the state for the increased strain on county jails taking care of state inmates.

The association approved a resolution last week requesting Gov. Kay Ivey and the state Legislature to “retroactively reimburse county governments for their extended care of an increased number of State-responsible inmates throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, a consequence of the Alabama Department of Corrections’ decision to drastically reduce its intake activities in 2020 and 2021.”

The reimbursement amount is for the time from Jan. 1, 2021 to July 31, 2021 and accounts for all counties, Abby Fitzpatrick, director of communication and engagement for the association, told Alabama Daily News.

The $10 million estimate is based on the reimbursement rate of $28 per inmate per day that the Alabama Department of Corrections used in paying counties in 2020 through state CARES Act funds, Fitzpatrick said.

County officials have been advocating for more resources to take care of state inmates for many years and the problem has only gotten worse since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the association says.

In its most recent report on county jail impact, the association estimates that there has been an increase of 6,000 state inmates in jails from 2014 to 2020.

The report also says that state inmates cost county jails and their sheriffs’ departments $544 million in fiscal year 2020, an increase of about $123 million from 2014.

Senate General Fund committee chair Greg Albritton, R-Range, told ADN that he understands the strain put on counties by the pandemic, but that it can be felt in many other areas of government as well.

“Anything that comes from the counties is something that we must consider, but reality sets in too and between the other issues we’ve got pending and the cries for money and whose it is tremendous,” Albritton said.

The ADOC temporarily blocked the transfer of new prisoners into state prisons at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 for 30 days and then opened the shuttered Draper Correctional facility as a quarantine intake facility to help slowly transfer county jail inmates into prisons.

Most of the state inmates in county jails are probation and parole violators who are being penalized for technical violations under the “dips” and “dunks” statute created by a 2015 law meant to ease state prison crowding and save money.

The Legislature passed a bill earlier this year to reduce the amount of time violators would serve in county jails and compensate selected jails more for holding state inmates.

That law doesn’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2022 but Albritton, the bill’s sponsor, said work is progressing on getting that process in place.

“Right now there are negotiations going on to find the right path to get contracts with the appropriate people that can handle them and to get those payments started,” Albritton said. “It’s not done yet but at least they’re talking.”

The association also passed another resolution urging unity among Alabamians to work together in the fight against COVID-19 as the delta variant is causing drastic increases in hospitalizations in the state.

“In light of the recent resurgence of COVID-19, county officials felt it important to call attention to a few of the virus-specific issues continuing to plague our county governments and our state as a whole,” ACCA Executive Director Sonny Brasfield said in a press release.