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Wednesday, 19 June 2013 13:27

From more inmates to more foster kids, drug abuse hits Haywood in the wallet

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Illegal drug abuse and its repercussions are costing Haywood County taxpayers.

An increase in drug use has led to more drug-related arrests. That means more inmates in the county jail, which it turn takes more jailers.

 

 “Yesterday, we were 43 more than this exact same day last year,” said Chief Deputy Jeff Haynes. So far for June, the jail is averaging 121 inmates compared to 61 for the month of June last year.

Overtime for jailers was $50,000 to $60,000 over budget this year to handle the additional inmate load. 

In next year’s budget, the county will simply bite the bullet and add an additional jailer.

“If they are going to go after more people and put them in jail, we need more staff at the jail,” said Finance Director Julie Davis.

The county will also add an additional narcotics detective, bringing the number of drug officers in the sheriff’s office to three.

The sheriff’s office is also buying a new K9, bringing its K9 force from one to two dogs.

“We need another one simply because our K9 is on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” said Haywood Sheriff Greg Christopher.

It will cost $5,500 for the K9, plus another $5,000 for its kennels and to outfit a cop car to be K9 compatible.

The drug dog will be paid for with drug money — literally. When drug dealers are busted, any cash or property is seized, and the county gets to keep a portion to spend on drug enforcement and prevention measures.

Haynes said illegal drugs and substance abuse are creating a huge ripple effect, and the list doesn’t stop with the hard costs of law enforcement salaries.

“We are paying a huge cost for it,” Haywood Social Services Director Ira Dove said.

This past year, the county also saw a spike in the number of kids in foster care. Drug and substance abuse by parents is a top reason kids end up in foster care. The rise in foster care costs the county an extra $115,000 over and above what it had budgeted for the year.

The cost of illegal drug use to taxpayers is lurking in even more unsuspected places.

The jail also saw a $51,000 overrun in medical costs for inmates, for example. The county is legally liable for all of an inmate’s medical needs while in custody, from the cost of prescriptions to any major ailments that beset them. Medical costs for inmate are a roll of the dice from year to year.

With more inmates, medical costs are obviously higher. But medical costs are exacerbated by inmates with a history of chronic drug abuse that has taken a toll on their bodies or who land behind bars with addictions that take medical treatment to get off of.

“Substance abuse is certainly a contributing factor to the increase in medical costs for inmates,” Haynes said.

A report on increased medical costs at the jail cited that most inmates “are not of good health due to their lifestyle.”

The scourge of illegal drug abuse even has a role to play in a growing number of altercations playing out at the Department of Social Services.

A full-time deputy is being assigned to DSS next month — yet another new staff position for the county — in part to quell volatile situations, such as an enraged parent who has lost child custody or estranged spouses negotiating child support.

“We are dealing with some of the most emotionally charged issues that people have,” Dove said.

Many times drugs can be an underlying cause that landed the person in DSS.

“It is most definitely without a doubt a contributing factor,” Haynes said.

The deputy is also needed simply to serve the large number of civil summons generated by DSS orders, such as child support or custody orders. It is increasingly common for DSS agencies to have full-time deputies. Buncombe County has two full-time officers stationed at its DSS offices.

The cost of the additional jailer, drug detective and DSS deputy are $154,000 in all for the coming fiscal year. 

Haywood County is also adding additional security measures at the DSS office, including several mounted cameras and electronic door locks activated by a swipe card — to the tune of $45,000. It will be paid for with right-of-way money from the N.C. Department of Transportation, which shaved off the edge of the DSS property as part of an interchange redesign and had to compensate the county for the tiny sliver that was taken. The money had to be invested back in the DSS property, per terms of an outstanding loan on the DSS building.

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