Increasing inmate costs present county dilemma

Published 5:22 pm Thursday, April 25, 2019

Sheriff John Shearon requested an increase in line items of nearly $200,000 during the April 23 Chilton County Commission meeting.

It was a request that seemed to stun the Commission, despite discussing it in a work session prior and wanting to do what they can to help the Sheriff’s Office.

“There’s no pot of cash lying around,” Commission chairman Joseph Parnell said.

According to Shearon, the request was brought about by the ever-increasing costs associated with the combination of inmate medical care, prison reform and the increasing population of the Chilton County jail.

“The new reform bill that the state passed is killing the smaller counties,” Commissioner Allen Caton said.

Shearon had initially foreshadowed the increased costs associated with the jail and presented it to the Commission back in 2016. It is now coming to fruition.

“We’re doing everything we can to deal with it, but it’s driving [costs] everything up,” Shearon said. “It has stepped up tremendously every year.”

The increase of inmates has been easy to spot over the past three years. The jail housed 139 inmates in 2016, 185 in 2017 and 235 in 2018.

“We’re slowly going from a jail to a prison,” Caton said. “It was not built for what [numbers] we’re putting in there.”

Shearon said that it could eventually get to the point where a federal judge will force the county to build a new jail to fit its needs. He called it “unfunded mandates.”

If that would be the case, it would not be the first time that has happened in the county. The current jail was constructed after a judge’s mandate.

“It’s an issue we can’t go to sleep on, because it’s going to bite us,” Parnell said.