14 News Special Report: Locked Up and Loaded - 14 News, WFIE, Evansville, Henderson, Owensboro

14 News Special Report: Locked Up and Loaded

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In this hard economic time, Tri-State jails tell 14 News their budgets are stretched to their limits.

One local sheriff tells us he's constantly playing the "what if" game, trying to maintain a contingency plan in case their budget hits its brink.

The Posey County Jail is almost at capacity. Sheriff Greg Oeth says it's been that way since they ramped up undercover drug investigations in 2011. He says the inmates have come to the jail with a host of problems.

We took a closer look at what that means to you as a tax payer in our special report: Locked Up and Loaded.

"Crimes that are connected with substance abuse, those are both alcohol related offenses and drug related offenses, I would estimate that is around 80% of what we're housing here in the way of offenders," says Sheriff Oeth.

He says that percentage is the norm among Tri-State jails.

"We see those folks that are characteristic of methamphetamine abuse which has a physiological change of the body," says Oeth. "Their outward appearance, their skin condition, their teeth and those are folks that we see quite often that needs dental care."

Dental care means extractions. It's the very basic care required by state standards.

"We have to provide them the basic services, that's just a given," says Oeth. "We're not going to allow an individual to decline in health just because they've made a bad mistake and find themselves incarcerated in jail."

Posey County contracts with Advanced Correctional for Medical Services. They provide a nurse four days a week between two and four hours, and a doctor one day a week.

That contract costs $4,580 a month and covers 35 inmates. For each inmate over 35, the jail pays a per diem about $1,200 last year.

The sheriff says the moment an individual walks through he door, they are no longer addicted to alcohol, smoking or drugs, which means withdraw is a common problem.

"The physician will prescribe certain drugs. Now this isn't going to be a regiment of drugs that private treatment would, could or may cover, but they will evaluate them and put them on something they feel will give them or provide them some type of assistance," says Oeth.

Sheriff Oeth says the jail is not a treatment facility.

"They would be better off here with us because releasing them just spirals them back into that condition," says Oeth.

One inmate, who wishes to remain anonymous, says he's seen the nurse several times in the ten months he's been behind bars.

"I've been to the nurse several times for common things like seasonal allergies," says the Inmate. "There's been things like whenever I have headaches chronically, she'll check my blood pressure make sure everything is fine."

He's serving a year for burglary and theft and is an exception to the rule for cost saving reasons.

"I've also been given the opportunity at my own cost to see the physician of my own choice," says the Inmate. 

"By far our medical budgeting is one of the top line items that we have in the budget, just to take care of the contract," says Oeth. "Then we have all kinds of needs outside the contract that we have to take care of too."

Sheriff Oeth says at one point, the jail had an inmate complaining of abdominal pain and was transported to the hospital. The inmate stayed two-and-a-half days.

"We provided 24-hour security for that person and I think the initial bills that came in just for that one hospital stay was somewhere in the neighborhood of $52,000," says Oeth.

That's nearly the equivalent of the jail's annual healthcare budget. So where the money come from to pay that bill?

"General fund, or rain day fund," says Oeth. "We're pretty fortunate, we've got individuals on our County Council that recognize that fact, they move money into rainy day funds."

Sheriff Oeth says he often sees individual leave the jail in much better health when they came in. Part of the overall goal to reform inmates, into productive members of society.

The Sheriff tells 14 News he will go before the County Council in August to ask for an additional $15,00 for health care.

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