Jail contract finalized after three years

A new agreement between the county and the city of

Sequim for jail services will end up costing the city more each year, but it's a fair rate, according to county officials.

The former agreement, which expired in 2005, was outdated and very generous to a once struggling Sequim, said Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict at a Clallam County commissioner meeting Nov. 3.

"This new contract replaces the sweetheart contract of the 1990s, when we were basically subsidizing jail services, with one that is fair to everyone involved," Benedict said. "It will serve as the standard for jail agreements at the county."

The county commissioners approved the contract during their Nov. 4 meeting. The approval of the jail contract with Sequim was three pronged: It adopted the new agreement; it released debt the county held against the city for past prisoner medical costs and it put an end to a lawsuit the city had filed in Jefferson County against Clallam County regarding the debt.

"I think this shows we can work together, city and county, and Sheriff Benedict and Chief (Robert) Spinks should be commended for their work to come to an agreement," said Clallam County Commissioner Mike Chapman, I-Port Angeles.

"It's really a bad situation for the taxpayer when you have two local governments locked in a legal battle."

The Sequim City Council unanimously approved the contract in September.

New contract

The new agreement allows the county to charge the city $67 for each day one of its prisoners is in the jail. The charge also applies if the suspect is arrested, booked and immediately released because of the staff time involved in fingerprinting, photographing and booking the prisoner.

The city had been paying about $64 a day.

The city is responsible for paying for housing, prosecuting, adjudicating, sentencing and incarcerating prisoners its officers arrest who have misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor charges. The county is responsible for felony arrests.

In addition to the $67 daily charge, under the new agreement the county will charge $3 a day for medical costs, which goes into a pooled fund that helps both municipalities avoid sudden financial impacts by a prisoner's big-ticket medical expense, which is what brought on the debt and lawsuit in the first place.

Medical costs

The county once alleged the city owed it about $55,000 of felony prisoner medical costs. The new agreement vacates that debt.

"We thought we were right and the city thought they were right," Benedict said. "It was a vague law and we've worked our way around that by pooling our risk."

While the city is required to pay everything for its misdemeanor prisoners, the law is unclear about paying for felony prisoner medical costs.

It had never been a problem until one or two prisoners in 2005 had some big-ticket medical needs that the jail paid for.

"It's our responsibility to treat these people in a humane and just manner," Benedict said. "Not everyone is convicted, many are just charged, which is really something that is being looked at on the national level."

Benedict said individuals lose their Social Security benefits while they are incarcerated, whether or not they are convicted of the crime they were arrested and put into jail for.

"Congress is looking at this issue," he said. "There was a bill last year that didn't make it to both bodies but we have high hopes for another bill in 2009 that will help us deal with these increasing costs."

Benedict not only refined the contract with Sequim but also with Olympic Medical Center, the jail's medical provider.

The new agreement with the hospital places more nurses in the jail. They are able to handle most medical situations, resulting in fewer outside doctor visits.

"We don't shy from taking a prisoner out to an appointment if it's something we can't do internally, but this new deal with the hospital has really cut down those costs," Benedict said.

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