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Too many inmates a financial drain

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

On almost any given day, Ellis County's jail population could be more than double what it is.

And the jail population already is sometimes twice its 30-inmate capacity.

That's why inmates are shuffled to neighboring jails, in Stockton, WaKeeney or Dodge City -- where most of the overflow is being housed -- on an almost daily basis.

All that's expensive.

Ellis County Sheriff Ed Harbin said housing costs were nearly $164,000 last year, but that doesn't include travel costs or manpower costs.

Some days, he said, deputies might travel to WaKeeney, returning in time to go to Salina and then back to WaKeeney to return a prisoner.

"We spend a lot of time on the road," Harbin said of his deputies.

At least one sheriff's officer, and five part-time drivers, are used to shuffle inmates.

Harbin said they try not to pick up an inmate for a court hearing and then shuffle him right back down the next day.

It's helped, he said, to work out an arrangement so inmates in outlying jails now can call their attorneys without being forced to make a collect call.

"That's for the jails we have contracted with," Harbin said.

But there's a less visible category of people who could become inmates at any given moment.

"On any given day, we have about 50 people on supervised bond in community corrections and 25 on bond through court services," Harbin said.

Judges have been aware of the crunch for space as well.

"The court has been very cooperative," Harbin said. "There are some types of misdemeanors that are allowed to be out on their own recognizance.

"And the judges are really not sending anyone to jail because there's no room."