Making Cents of Jail Contracting: Recent Policy and Budget Changes

June 28, 2024

Local jails play a significant role in Utah’s criminal justice system. Specifically, county jails serve an important function by housing a portion of state inmates and certain probationers (who are sentenced to serve in a county jail as a condition of their probation). The program that pays for state inmates to use local facilities is called ‘Jail Contracting’, while the probationer program is referred to as ‘Jail Reimbursement’. Counties house 25-30% of the state’s prison population, currently funded at up to 1,600 individuals.

During the 2023 and 2024 General Sessions, there have been significant changes in these programs’ policies and processes as well as funding levels. These changes have allowed for improved transparency, predictability, and simplification. Below is a brief description of each program, including funding levels and the key elements of these programs.

Jail Contracting
The Jail Contracting program pays counties to house a portion of state inmates that would otherwise be located at one of the two state prison facilities (in either Salt Lake or Gunnison.) Typically, if offenders are sentenced to incarceration over 365 days, they are sent to a state prison whereas sentences less than 365 days are sent to a local, county jail. This program is mutually beneficial. For the state, this program allows more flexibility in managing inmates as the population changes and reduces the need to construct additional or larger state correctional facilities. Local jails benefit by having some of their variable and fixed facility costs offset by housing state inmates. The state pays counties per day for each prisoner housed within a county jail. Below are General Fund appropriations for the Jail Contracting program over time. The green highlights indicate the impact of S.B. 114 “County Correctional Facility Contracting Amendments” (2023 General Session).

Funding ItemFY 2023FY 2024FY 2025
Jail Contracting$34,141,500$40,988,100$48,763,800

Key elements of Jail Contracting program changes:

  • The state pays at least 70% of incarceration costs, eliminating the discretion of the Legislature to set the daily rate, instead using a daily incarceration cost formula, increasing the overall amount paid to counties.
  • The rate formula is based on average costs of the last five fiscal years as opposed to the last three fiscal years.
  • The Department of Corrections is required to forecast contracting needs, which is factored into program costs.
  • Provides a one-time reserve of $2.0 million, should the population exceed estimates.

Jail Reimbursement
The Jail Reimbursement program compensates county jails for probationers that a judge orders to be housed in a local jail as a condition of their probation (up to 365 days). This program operates on the concept of shared responsibility between the state and counties for incarcerating this specific population. This is reflected in a reduced daily rate when compared to Jail Contracting. Below are General Fund appropriations for the Jail Reimbursement program over time. The highlighted column indicates the impact of S.B. 48 “County Correctional Facility Reimbursement Amendments” (2024 General Session).

Funding ItemFY 2023FY 2024FY 2025
Jail Reimbursement$12,725,100$12,725,100$11,779,100

Features of the updated Jail Reimbursement include:

  • The Jail Reimbursement rate paid to counties is based on the state’s costs (i.e., the state daily incarceration rate as opposed to county costs).
  • The state pays 50% of the state daily incarceration rate for probationers sent to county jails, increased from 47.89%.
  • Provides a one-time reserve of $1.0 million in cases where the probation population exceeds estimates.

The policy and funding changes made in the 2023 and 2024 general sessions for these programs has allowed for increased transparency, predictability, and improved rates paid to counties. The legislative changes have also provided increased insulation to the state’s budget, allowing for fiscal flexibility as these populations change.