Are we spending too much to keep inmates behind bars?

It costs about the same as a night in a hotel, but this establishment offers much more.

All of your meals are free, and to top it all off, health care is a part of the package.

It might surprise you that what I'm describing is your county jail.

KRCG's Fact Finder Team investigated the high price of jail time.

We all want the bad guys off the streets, but with this economic downturn the cost of keeping them behind bars is adding up.

"It costs us right around $25 a day to house an inmate because of food, maintaining the building, and cleaning supplies, Maries County Chief Deputy David Hutchinson said.

It all adds up to a little more than $200,000 a year for Maries County to run its jail.

Adding to that cost are inmates who demand free health care.

When they get arrested and they go to jail the first thing they want to do is get their teeth fixed, because they know that we're obligated to do that, Hutchinson said. Also they are wanting to go to the doctors all the time. It's just hard for us to absorb all these costs."

It cost three times higher to stay overnight in a jail in Cole County than it does in Maries County.

The sheriff told me a night in the Cole County jail costs taxpayers about the same as a night in a standard hotel.

"The county has to budget between $78 and $79 a person. That's everything, Cole County Sheriff Greg White said.That's their medical bills, the utilities for the building, and also it's the depreciation on the building."

Right now Cole County has about 90 inmates they're responsible for, which is costing them upwards of $7,000 a day.

Sheriff White said inmates are sometimes ordered to pay them back, but it's rare.

"We get some money back, but if they're not working you TMre not going to get money from them, White said.

Another way to recoup some of the jail costs is from the the state.

When they step in to the Department of Corrections, at that point we get reimbursed $23 per person, per day for their length of stay. If they get probation and never go to prison we get no reimbursement, White said.

But that $23 a day only covers a fourth of the total cost.

Both Maries and Cole County agree there is always a need for more money to keep the jails running.

The new Cole County jail will be open soon.

Sheriff Greg White told KRCG he hopes the new efficiencies of the jail will help lower costs.

So tell us what you think. Are we spending too much to keep inmates behind bars?