BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WECT) - The costs are starting to pile up for local jails that house federal inmates, due to the partial government shutdown.
With key services not operating, local jails are unable to get reimbursed for housing inmates for the United States Marshals Service. The USMS detains inmates as part of agreements with local detention centers, where they typically remain in custody until they are either acquitted or convicted and delivered to their designated federal Bureau of Prisons facility.
In a letter to Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram, Acting U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of North Carolina Robert Pettit said the USMS is unable to process payments for prisoner housing due to a lack of federal appropriation.
“During an absence of appropriations, USMS operations are limited to those needed to maintain the minimum level of essential activities necessary to protect life and property,” Pettit wrote in the Jan. 7 letter. “We consider your services essential to USMS operations and you are requested to continue to provide services.”
Through its intergovernmental agreement with the USMS, the Brunswick County Detention Center can house up to 50 federal detainees at a time and invoice the federal agency $65 per day per inmate.
In December, the detention center housed a total of 33 federal inmates for a combined 837 days, according to an invoice provided by the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office, resulting in a $54,405 bill awaiting payment by the USMS.
That bill doesn’t include costs associated with any federal inmates housed in the jail during the month of January. A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office said 20 federal detainees were being held in the detention center as of Tuesday morning.
The spokesperson said the detention center can absorb the unexpected costs through the end of the fiscal year, should the shutdown last that long.
“If the shutdown continues into the next fiscal year, we'll have to see what County Finance will do with the detention center budget,” the spokesperson said in an email Tuesday morning.
The detention center should receive back pay for any invoices billed to the USMS once the government re-opens, according to Pettit’s letter to Ingram.
“[W]hen the Federal Prisoner Detention appropriation is funded through enactment of a full budget or continuing resolution (CR), we will commence payment of all invoices received,” Pettit wrote. “We apologize in advance for any disruption a delay in payment may have on your local operations and appreciate your understanding and partnership during the federal government shutdown.”
Detention centers in Columbus and Pender counties are currently not federal holding facilities. The Bladen County Sheriff’s Office recently began the process of signing up its facility to house federal inmates, however, that process is currently on hold due to the shutdown, according to Chief Deputy Larry Guyton.
An inquiry to the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office was not immediately returned.