Gage County inmates headed for a cell across the Kansas border now have the option to stay in Nebraska following allegations that housing inmates in another state is a violation of the Nebraska Constitution.
Earlier this month, Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers asked Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson to weigh in on a contract approved by the Gage County Board of Supervisors in late September.
The one-year contract reserved 10 beds in the Washington County, Kan. jail for Gage County inmates. A similar agreement was approved with Dawson County in central Nebraska to reserve five additional beds.
Chambers alleged that it’s a violation of the Nebraska Constitution to transport an inmate to another state for any offense committed in Nebraska.
He wrote in a letter to the attorney general that it’s a “bit much” to use Nebraskans’ tax dollars to pay another state when no product is received and called on Peterson defend the Nebraska Constitution.
At Wednesday’s County Board of Supervisors meeting, Sheriff Millard “Gus” Gustafson said inmates have to sign a waiver to be housed in Kansas. The waiver notifies inmates they have the right to be housed in state.
Gustafson said all inmates held in Kansas were transported back to Gage County and presented with the waiver. All 16 inmates voluntarily signed a waiver, and were transported back to Washington County.
“All in about an afternoon, we brought them all back, explained the situation and showed them the waiver,” Gustafson said. “They all said ‘No I want to stay in Washington’ and all went back within about four hours, so that’s all been taken care of.”
He described the waiver as a “no brainer” for inmates, since the alternative would be the Dawson County jail, more than 200 miles away. The Washington County jail is around a 46-mile drive from Gage County.
County Attorney Roger Harris said the county responded quickly to Chambers’ accusation, and there was no intent to violate inmate’s rights.
“Gus is trying to save money for the taxpayers,” Harris said. “At the time, we’re trying to keep them as close as possible to Gage County. Nobody accused of any intent of trying to violate people’s rights or anything like that.”
The county’s contracts with both jails are at a rate of $45 per bed, per day, whether or not they are being used.
This amounts to $675 per day, or $246,000 per year to house inmates in the other counties.
Gage County inmates have been held sporadically in Washington County for more than a year, though no beds were reserved.
The $45 cost per inmate at Washington County is $10 more than the standard rate Gage County previously paid. Officials justified the additional $10 per day because this would reserve the beds for Gage County, as opposed to saving the $10 and hoping the jail has room for Gage County inmates.
Not having a contract in place led to Gage County inmates being held in as many as seven different counties in Nebraska and Kansas, wherever open cells were available.
Talks of contracting with jails intensified this summer as the number of inmates reached double the Gage County jail’s capacity of around 27.