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Business and the Economy

Commissioners Using Jail Study to Help Determine Tax Measure For Expansion

Bill Garnos
Greene County

Greene County officials are reviewing how renovations to its jail can hold enough prisoners to meet current and future demand and at what cost.

It comes after last week’s report by jail and prison consultant Bill Garnos. His study provided estimated needs for the jail over the next 20 years.

County Commissioner Harold Bengsch said, “It covered everything from the current growth trends of population of Green County, and what that looks like for the future and how that may contribute to the jail population.”

Officials hope to pay for a jail expansion with a new sales tax it’ll soon ask citizens to approve. Putting the decision before voters is part of an agreement the county and city of Springfield reached last month that ended a more than two-year dispute between them over jail use.

Bengsch says tax specifics will need to be decided soon if the measure is to go on the November ballot. He says officials are using Garnos’ report to help them.

“What we’re doing right now is analyzing his report, working with the architect in terms of what the cost estimate might be.”

The study by Garnos factors in population growth over the next two decades. It shows 1,155 jail beds would be needed by 2022 to house federal, state and municipal inmates. Over 2,000 beds would be needed by 2037.  The estimates are based on if there are no changes in the efficiency of the justice system, the report states. The Greene County Jail’s current capacity is 601.

While the rate for smaller crimes is decreasing overall, Bengsch says this is not the case for crimes in which people end up in jail. As of late July, there were 796 inmates, meaning many were being housed in other county jails.

“The bottom line is we are not seeing a decrease in the number of bookings coming into the jail, the number of prisoners. That continues to grow.”

Bengsch said that Garnos suggested the commission focus on the five- and 10-year predictions, since those further down the road are less reliable.

“These are trend lines, and not something that you can hang your hat on necessarily, so he said be very cautious about making your decisions based upon more than ten years.”

Garnos also recommends Greene County analyze other variables, such as the average length of stay for state inmates and the declining availability of beds in regional facilities.

According to the county, Garnos has directed or assisted with jail planning projects for more than 100 cities and counties in 27 states.

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