As Missourian's we will soon celebrate 200 years of state hood. And as we prepare for our bicentennial, we have the opportunity to celebrate the role of the elected sheriff throughout our long history. Since our founding, every sheriff has been proud to be the chief elected law enforcement officer, responsible for the protection and safety of our law abiding citizens and their families. As the central cog in Missouri's criminal justice system, the sheriff and their deputies are responsible for the operation of the jail, providing court security, processing all court documents, and transportation and housing of state prisoners. These are the hidden responsibilities that separate the sheriff from other law enforcement agencies.
While many would think the sheriff would be respected for taking on all of these tasks, as required by state law, many bureaucrats in Jefferson City do not respect this role and have sought to minimize local control of public safety. The best evidence has been the lack of funding available to county taxpayers while state agencies have seen dramatic increases in funding. For example, in 1997, the state reimbursed local taxpayers $26 million for housing inmates. Over time this has increased to $34 million in 2019, an $8 million dollar increase in 22 years.
During this same time frame, the Department of Corrections and Public Safety budgets have increased $1 billion dollars! An $8 million increase compared to a $1 billion increase clearly shows bureaucrats have been able to convince our state representatives that the money is better spent on Jefferson City initiatives rather than continuing a strong public safety partnership between state and local agencies.
I am not convinced our taxpayer dollars are better spent in this way. For example, DOC now releases most inmates after they have served only one tenth of their original sentence. It seems their first priority is to calculate how soon they can release an inmate, rather than account for the public safety factor in our local communities. DOC does not even attempt to contact either local prosecutors or local law enforcement to help determine if an inmate should be released early. With an $800 million budget I think they should be doing better.
Further, the Missouri Supreme Court has now decided that the criminal court system does not have the authority to collect jail board bills from criminal defendants. Instead, the collection must occur in civil court, and must be done by the sheriff. While no sheriff believes in debtor's prison, once a person commits a crime, they have to repay their debt to society, and this includes the cost of incarceration. Now, the taxpayer not only pays for the defendant to be brought before the criminal court, they must now pay for the cost of civil court as well.
Because of these drastic decisions, it is critical that Missouri citizens let their state representatives and senators know that they support the rule of law. Sheriff's across the state have formed a new organization, Missouri Sheriffs United, to help fight Jefferson City bureaucrats who continue to erode the rule of law and take away local control of our own public safety.
As your sheriff, we will continue to do everything in our power to not only protect your families from the dangers we face, and when necessary, we will protect your families from bureaucrats who are failing us in Jefferson City.
David Parrish, Lewis County sheriff and president of the MSA