Bedford County Board of Commissioners' law enforcement and workhouse committee recommended Tuesday night that the county sign a contract with the state to house locally-sentenced felons with sentences of three years or less.
Sheriff's department officials say the county is basically housing those prisoners already, and by contracting with the state it will be more consistently and promptly reimbursed for inmate medical expenses, which have become an increasing concern in recent years.
Inmates with sentences less than a year are considered misdemeanor offenders and are the responsibility of local government. Those with sentences of a year or longer are felons and are technically the state's responsibility, although the state generally doesn't take prisoners with sentences of two years or less, and in practice counties are more or less at the state's mercy when waiting to transfer prisoners into the state prison system.
Currently, the county doesn't have a contract with the state. Sheriff Randall Boyce and other sheriff's department and jail officials speaking Tuesday night said signing a contract with the state wouldn't have any effect on the actual prisoner count and would allow the county to get into the system for reimbursement of medical costs for state inmates, which would mean the county would be reimbursed sooner and more consistently.
The state would pay $37 per inmate per day under the terms of the contract.
The state's system for certifying local jails does not penalize them for any overcrowding that is the result of state prisoners -- state inspectors compare the number of local misdemeanor offenders to the jail's capacity, ignoring the number of state prisoners.
However, in cases where prisoners seek jail overcrowding relief from federal court, as happened in Bedford County in the 1980s, the federal court would look at actual inmate numbers and conditions, regardless of to which system an inmate belonged.
The committee voted to send the recommendation to the full commission, which will meet Aug. 14.
In other discussion, the committee recommended setting up a special fund to pay for ongoing expenses for the camera system in sheriff's department vehicles.
The fund would be paid for by court-ordered contributions from DUI offenders.