Wisconsin News

Proposed jail legislation could save taxpayer dollars

Police dept. could transport inmates acrosse state and county lines

Legislation Could Save Taxpayer Dollars

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - Taxpayers in La Crosse County could see some savings if a new piece of legislation gets approved. It would allow police departments to transport inmates across state and county lines.

Under current law, a person charged with a municipal offense, such as refusing to pay a fine for speeding or an OWI has to serve time in the county that it happened in. This new bill would allow police departments, like La Crosse, to transfer prisoners to bordering counties or even states. It's a change some say would save money for taxpayers, the city and the county as well.

Right now a 12-day stay in the La Crosse County Jail costs taxpayers a little more than $1,000 dollars.

It's a cost local police departments have to pay out of their budget.

"Currently today it costs $45 dollars for the first day and $90 dollars any day thereafter, which is about a 50 percent increase from what it used to cost us back in 2012," said assistant police chief Robert Abraham with La Crosse Police Department.

"I understand the position the La Crosse Police Department because that is substantially more than we charged in the past and of course it's an issue of tax dollars and the city of La Crosse," said La Crosse County Sheriff Steve Helgeson.

In 2012, the La Crosse Police Department paid about $80,000 to the county to house inmates. With current prices, it would have cost the department about $124,000.

"We made a decision that we would charge something that reflected more closely the amount that it actually cost us to keep inmates in the La Crosse County Jail," said Helgeson.

To help cut costs, the La Crosse Police Department reached out for help. Rep. Jill Billings introduced a new piece of legislation that would allow municipal prisoners to be transferred across county and state lines.

"In La Crosse County, we could enter into an agreement with Houston County. They've offered a rate that is lower than our county jail," said Billings.

"It could be a win win for the city taxpayers and for the county as well," said Abraham.

"The philosophy of La Crosse County is we prefer to have the persons in our jail that really need to be there, those persons that are at least medium risk or high risk inmates that shouldn't be released on the streets, we prefer to not fill our beds with inmates who are of lower risk," said Helgeson.

Abraham said each situation will be looked at on an individual basis. Sometimes an inmate only has to serve one day under the warrant. One night at the La Crosse County Jail went from $35 to $45 a day so not a big enough difference to transfer someone to another county for a day.

The bill is working its way through committees right now. It could see the floor in both the house and senate as early as next week.

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