Prison locks up extra revenue

| Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Thanks in part to an influx of inmates from Fayette County, Butler County is expecting at least $700,000 in extra revenue from housing out-of-county prisoners for 2013.

The county's budget projected about $1.3 million would be generated by Butler County Prison, but Warden Richard Shaffer said he now expects this year's revenue to total about $2 million. The revenue helps cover the prison's operating costs.

The added income is welcome news for a county struggling to stem losses at its Sunnyview nursing home and has begun efforts to sell it.

“We're way above (the budgeted $1.3 million). We didn't know we'd have Fayette inmates this year,” Shaffer said.

Butler County could continue receiving extra money from Fayette County for another couple of years if commissioners there choose to keep sending inmates to Butler and other facilities around the region until a new prison opens.

The Fayette commissioners voted last month to build a prison that they expected could open by 2015. In the meantime, they're housing nearly 80 inmates in various facilities in other counties.

Butler County has the room. It built a 561-bed prison to replace an overcrowded and aging facility, opening in 2009. However, the prison has never come close to capacity, so it's housing Fayette prisoners along with parole violators from the state and federal prisoners.

Shaffer said the prison has averaged close to 350 inmates a month, with about 100 of them from outside Butler County. The rest are county inmates awaiting hearings or serving sentences.

Shaffer said that, despite the increase in outside inmates, there are no plans to open two empty pods out of the prison's nine pods.

Opening them would require hiring additional employees.

“The state had mentioned earlier they have a lot more people, (and asked if we would) be interested in taking even more. We can't, because we'd have to hire more people,” Shaffer said. “If they can guarantee another 50 people at all times, then we could justify hiring people.”

Last year, the state announced it would reduce the number of inmates serving sentences in county jails to save money.

Instead, they're being housed in state institutions. The Butler prison started housing parole violators in April.

“The state is overcrowded, and they can't just let everybody go. I knew we would have inmates one way or the other,” Shaffer said.

In 2012, the state made “major changes” in the way it handled parole violators, Department of Corrections Spokeswoman Susan McNaughton said.

“We returned all Department of Corrections full-custody inmates back to our own (state prisons) and are now in the process of implementing agreements with various counties to house technical parole violators,” McNaughton said.

Instead of returning parole violators to state prisons, they're sent to halfway houses or county prisons, she said.

Housing an inmate in a state prison costs $95 a day, and it costs $75 per day in a halfway house, she said. The cost of housing violators depends on the contracts with various counties.

For 2010-11, the state spent $468,000 to house state inmates in Butler County and $421,000 the following year. For 2012-13, the state paid $575,000 to house inmates and parole violators.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or

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