COLUMBUS — The number of out-of-county jail inmates housed locally has hovered in the single digits for months, resulting in shrinking revenue for Platte County.
“It sure has dropped off,” said Dave Westfall, corrections director at the Platte County Detention Facility.
The jail’s total inmate count was 49 on Wednesday, with just five from outside the county.
On only a handful of days during the summer and into this fall have out-of-county prisoners reached double digits, topping out at 11 in mid-June. On three other occasions out-of-county inmates totaled 10 a day.
The Columbus jail has agreements to house inmates from Colfax, Polk, Washington and Nance counties and is attempting to boost work-release inmates who were arrested in out-of-county locations but work at local plants.
If the inmate can get work release in Platte County to avoid losing their job, they pay the $50 daily fee for out-of-county inmates and an additional $15 work-release fee for a total of $65 a day, Westfall said.
Platte is also one of about 10 counties that will get the opportunity to house some state prisoners. The state pulled the plug on its county jail initiative aimed at curbing prison overcrowding more than a year ago, citing budget constraints.
“I expect to hear any day about the number of state inmates (we’ll be getting),” Westfall said.
Some state inmates are already being housed in Hall, Phelps, Dawson, Buffalo, Lincoln and Red Willow counties.
Platte and Saline counties have been notified they will be getting inmates to house, but haven’t received any transfers yet, Westfall said.
To house state inmates, Platte County Sheriff Ed Wemhoff said he and the jail’s staff and medical personnel had to agree to relax some of the facility’s restrictions on diabetes and mental health medications.
An example is the number of times some state inmates receive insulin for diabetes (four times a day) versus the local jail’s policy of administering insulin just two times a day.
“We needed to balance relaxing that restriction with medical liability issues,” Wemhoff said.
The Columbus jail was overbuilt for local needs nearly 15 years ago to attract out-of-county inmates. It replaced a 27-bed jail at the courthouse.
The county's 137-bed jail located at 1125 E. 17th St. has been a revenue source — as intended — for the county since opening in 2003.
In earlier years, fees collected for housing out-of-county inmates from about two dozen jurisdictions poured into the general fund. From 2006-09, about $4 million in fees filled Platte County coffers.
The $7.5 million jail was designed to fulfill Platte County's needs at the end of the facility's 25-year life span, with the extra beds being filled by outside prisoners who would generate increased revenue in the early years.
As the county jail ages, it was designed to gradually house more local prisoners and generate less revenue from out-of-county inmates. In theory, after 25 years the facility's beds would all be filled with local prisoners.
The jail's outside counties have included Antelope, Butler, Cedar, Colfax, Cuming, Dakota, Dodge, Douglas, Hall, Holt, Lancaster, Merrick, Nance, Pierce, Polk, Sarpy, Saunders and Seward.
Wemhoff has no idea what the future holds.
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” said the sheriff, noting that laws and law enforcement priorities change between putting people in prison and jail as opposed to pursuing probation, community-based mental health and drug treatment and counseling.