The Lawrence County Commission has received more than $210,000 in federal relief money for housing state inmates in the county jail and has submitted an additional $1.5 million in pandemic-related expenses involving public safety.
At a work session last Wednesday, District 4 County Commissioner Bobby Burch said the county was allocated $1.1 million in relief fund reimbursements, but it is undetermined what costs will be covered and when the county might receive additional funds.
The money comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, passed by Congress in March. Congress allocated $150 billion of the $2.2 trillion relief package to state and local governments. Alabama received a $1.8 billion allotment, 45% of which it allocated to local governments based on population.
Burch said the commission hired a Jackson, Mississippi, law firm to help maximize its reimbursement request.
County Administrator Heather Dyar said the county submitted a reimbursement request Dec. 18 for housing the state inmates and received $210,196 Monday.
Dyar said county commissions are reimbursed a daily rate of $28 per prisoner if the inmate in a county jail should be in a state Department of Corrections facility. She said the rate was effective March 20 through Dec. 30. She said the $210,000 will be placed in the jail’s budget.
Dyar said the $1.5 million request was separate from the inmate reimbursement and was submitted Dec. 28.
“We’ve filed for reimbursement of public safety officials’ salaries and supplies in a separate claim,” she said. “Public safety officials include sheriff deputies, sheriff dispatch, jail staff, EMA, 911 and salaries of other employees who directly facilitated public safety officials.”
The state inmate population in the county jail is about 70, Sheriff Max Sanders said. The jail also currently houses about 50 county and municipal inmates.
In pre-pandemic days, the Lawrence County Jail was usually overcrowded with county inmates, but now only those local inmates who are a threat to society are locked up, he said.
Sanders said the county jail is built to house 126 inmates. In the past, that number has reached more than 180 inmates.
“The state penitentiary is not taking any inmates right now,” he said. “We’re trying to keep the non-violent folks out of the jail. They’re able to make bond and go home. But those who commit domestic violence, assault, a threat to the public safety are locked up. We’re trying to keep it to a minimum, but you’ll certainly be locked up if you need to be.”
Municipalities pay a $30 booking fee for each municipal inmate booked into the county jail, and a $30 per day housing fee for each municipal inmate incarcerated in the county jail, Dyar said.
Sanders called his department “fortunate” it hasn’t had a COVID-19 outbreak in the jail. He said new inmates processed into the jail are placed in isolation for three days and monitored for the coronavirus before being placed in the jail’s general population. He knows of only one inmate to be COVID-positive to date.
“We’ve been very careful and have followed safety protocols pretty close,” he said.
Because of the pandemic, the jail’s 13-member staff has been temporarily trimmed to nine, he said.
He said three jailers are currently being quarantined for 14 days in preparation for attending a 14-week academy for Alabama Peace Officers’ Standards and Training Commission in Jefferson County. Another jailer is at home after being exposed to the coronavirus by a family member, he said. “We’ll be working some overtime and have our supervisors work shifts. It’s unavoidable,” he said.
A telephone call to the Alabama Department of Corrections last Wednesday was not returned.
In a Commission meeting on Friday, commissioners tabled a decision concerning the COVID-19 pandemic and scheduled a special meeting for Thursday, Jan. 14, at 10 a.m.
In Friday’s meeting, commissioners approved a Northwest Alabama Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Action plan as presented by Lawrence County Emergency Management Agency Director Chris Waldrep. The Commission also approved the 2020 Rebuild Alabama Annual Report, as presented by County Engineer Winston Sitton. Sitton said about 4.3 miles of roadway had been resurfaced last year under the Rebuild Alabama act.
Commissioners also approved the promotion of road department employee Josh Waldrep to professional engineer after Waldrep completed an engineering program and received his engineer’s license. The position pays $41.55 per hour.
All commissioners were present for Friday’s meeting.