clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

McHenry County officials question if jail-rental program worth it

WOODSTOCK — A jail-rental program with the federal government that has produced more than $73 million in the past decade has some McHenry County officials nonetheless wondering if it is worth it.

The Northwest Herald reports county taxpayers have subsidized the initiative to temporarily house detainees of the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

They question whether the agreement should be renewed when it expires at the end of 2015.

At issue is the $85-a-day per-bed rate, which hasn’t changed since 2008. A lobbyist hired by the county in 2013 found the county’s cost is $131 daily. But that report has been criticized as oversimplified.

County Administrator Peter Austin claims the cost varies. He contends that while there are fixed costs to providing the jail, which the county must do by state law, the population varies, changing the daily inmate cost.

“We have to turn the oven on whether we’re making 200 biscuits or 400 biscuits,” Austin said.

The county has asked for an increase from its federal partners. The Marshals Service agreed to a $10-a-day increase — and then pulled its detainees the next day. Federal authorities note that other facilities in the Chicago area charge less — Dodge County, Wisconsin, has a $60-a-day rate.

ICE uses the McHenry County lockup to a greater degree than the Marshals Service did. In 2012, for example, the average daily ICE population was 241 compared to 45 in the Marshals’ custody. But the county has felt additional financial pressure as the overall population has dropped from an average of 350 a day in 2011 to 180 daily this year, not counting December.

A consultant the county hired in the spring of 2013 plugged the county’s costs into a federal reimbursement formula and determined the county was paying $131 per day to house the inmates.

That outraged some officeholders.

“We’re talking between $40 (million) and $50 million over a seven-year period,” county board member Donna Kurtz said. “This never should have happened.”