Three years after closing its jail, Madison County is desperately trying to figure out how to keep criminals behind bars without breaking the bank.
Madison County was forced to close its jail at the end of 2014 after voters rejected the one-cent sales tax needed to raise funds to bring the facility up to code. Now the cost and manpower needed to transport prisoners to other jails are becoming a problem.
“I think our jail bill last year was around $450-thousand and that doesn’t include transportation back and forth,” said Madison County Sheriff Rick Evans.
The Madison County Jail only serves as a 24-hour holding cell. Evans says the county can’t continue sending its inmates to other jails indefinitely. Transporting inmates is stretching the sheriff’s office too thin.
“I have 8 deputies, that’s all we’re budgeted for, you take those deputies off the street, we’re losing services to the county and to the taxpayers,” Evans said.
For now, the Washington and Carroll County jails are able to house Madison county’s inmates but County Judge Frank Weaver says if they reach capacity, it’s going to be a big problem.
“The major concern I have is public safety if, in fact, we come to a point where we can’t house them, we’ve already released some on their own recognizance because we don’t have room to put them anywhere,” Weaver said.
“We’d have to find someplace else to go with them and right now, I don’t know where that would be,” Evans said.
The county is now asking the state for help. State Representative Bob Ballinger says one option would be building a joint-use state and county jail but with a price tag in the millions, that may be a long shot.
“The reason that that seems kind of insurmountable in a lot of ways is the upfront costs associated with it, you have to find a way to pay for it,” Ballinger said.
Evans says renovating the old jail isn’t a viable option because it only houses five inmates. Weaver plans to put together a committee to explore the county’s options.