Madison jail raises big bucks

Published 10:55 pm Tuesday, December 25, 2007

CANTON (AP) — When prominent federal prisoners like former judge Paul Minor and civil rights-era murderer James Ford Seale are locked up in the Madison County Detention Center, they don’t just bring the media spotlight to the jail. They also bring significant amounts of money.

Over the course of one year, Sheriff Toby Trowbridge receives on average about $1.46 million from housing federal prisoners.

The jail has beds for about 100 such prisoners on any given day, and the U.S. government pays Trowbridge $40 a day to house each of them. And like any good hotel, the jail is able to house people 365 days a year.

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Unlike a Hilton or Marriott, Trowbridge doesn’t deposit the money into a private bank account or spend it on softer mattresses.

He turns over every cent he gets to the board of supervisors. The largest single check he can remember turning in amounted to just over $300,000 from the U.S. Marshals Service for housing federal inmates.

Supervisors then takes this money into account when they consider Trowbridge’s budget request each year.

If he were to lose income from housing federal prisoners, Trowbridge would probably have to take a hard look at slashing his budget significantly.

For the 2008 fiscal year, Trowbridge has an $8.5 million budget, with $3.8 million set aside for the jail and $4.7 million scheduled to go to operations and administrative costs.

The income from federal prisoners represents just over 17 percent of Trowbridge’s budget for this year.

‘‘Housing federal prisoners usually helps out with the budget,’’ said County Comptroller Mark Houston.

The jail houses about 30 state inmates on average at $20 a day, for a yearly take of $219,000.

Housing local prisoners costs municipalities and the county $6 a day, at a cost of $21,900 dollars a year.

Taking care of Uncle Sam’s wards has turned into a vital part of jail operations compared to just a few years ago, when only about 25 to 50 federal prisoners were housed at the jail daily.

‘‘What does generate the big income and allows the county to assist us in our budgeting process is the federal prisoners,’’ Trowbridge said. ‘‘As a business avenue, why not use it?’’

He said the situation right now with his federal prisoner population, which is just under twenty percent of the 526 prisoners the jail can hold, is just about perfect.

‘‘A fifth of my population is making $1.46 million a year for Madison County,’’ he said.

Local police chiefs, meanwhile, say the large amount of space at the detention center makes Trowbridge’s operation a very important one.

It may even serve as a deterrent to crime, since people who get hauled into police stations in handcuffs know there will definitely be room for them to spend the night behind bars.

‘‘Folks know that they’re going to go to jail, or take the chance of going to jail, versus being turned loose before an officer even gets his paperwork done,’’ Madison Police Chief Gene Waldrop said.

A variety of factors have contributed to the detention center’s current status as a prime holding place for federal inmates.

The first important piece of the puzzle is geography. The detention center is only about 25 miles from the federal courthouse in Jackson, making transportation there an easy job for the two Sheriff’s deputies who escort the prisoners.

Another important factor is space.

Unlike the Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond, for example, which has faced problems related to overcrowding, the county’s jail has ample room for housing more than just the people arrested in Canton, Flora, Madison, Ridgeland, and unincorporated areas.

When the size of the jail was doubled earlier this decade to include 288 extra beds, housing more federal inmates became easy.

The capacity for federal prisoners may soon grow even higher. The supervisors are scheduled to revisit plans for a possible $19.5 million jail expansion early next year.

The new jail construction could result in 209 additional beds, making additional income from inmates like Minor and Seale a real possibility.

Madison County has also become a favored spot for federal inmates because of the way the jail is operated, according to Trowbridge.

‘‘They know that we run the Madison County jail in a professional manner, or up to their standards of housing federal inmates,’’ he said.

Since the sheriff’s department also deals a lot with U.S. marshals when it comes to federal prisoners, the jail has also helped county law enforcement develop a good relationship with federal officers.

Such trust built up over several years can be very valuable during joint operations like manhunts.

‘‘They’ve assisted us many, many times with arresting fugitives we have indictments on,’’ Trowbridge said.

Despite the lucrative rewards for keeping high-profile prisoners in the jail, Trowbridge said his first obligation is to the county municipalities and local police chiefs.

He said other county detention centers typically charge their local municipalities about $20 dollars a day for housing city prisoners instead of the $6 he requests.

The lower figure was in place when he came to office, and Trowbridge said he sees no reason to increase it, especially if it helps out his fellow law enforcement officers.

In the long-term, the relatively cheap rate charged by the sheriff’s department has also made building expensive city jails unnecessary.

‘‘What Sheriff Trowbridge charges us is more than reasonable for a municipality,’’ said Waldrop.

The detention center has allowed police departments and cities to spend money in other areas, he added.

‘‘My position would be, let’s enhance what we have instead of trying to duplicate that tax dollar and trying to reinvent the wheel,’’ Waldrop said.