March 23, 2013 in City

Feds paying to house drug ring suspects in county jail

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Housing dozens of inmates arrested in connection with what police are calling a massive oxycodone distribution ring brings some logistical headaches, but also a financial benefit to the Spokane County Jail.

Spokane County Sheriff’s Capt. John McGrath said the jail gets an economic boost because the county is able to charge federal officials $85 a day to house inmates, as well as extra money for extraordinary medical expenses.

Sixty-two people were indicted following raids in California and Spokane on Feb. 28. So far, all but about 13 of those suspects have been taken into custody, assistant U.S. attorneys said this week. The suspects are being brought to Spokane for their eventual trials.

The jail’s budget is about $35 million a year. It generates about $4 million a year by housing state or federal inmates. So the more of those inmates the jail gets, the lower the cost to county taxpayers, McGrath said.

“It’s a benefit to everybody to house those folks,” McGrath said.

Jail officials also are pleased that a federal judge split the suspects into smaller groups for court appearances.

Just this week, the U.S. Marshals Service brought in 15 suspects from California for their first appearances before U.S. Magistrate Cynthia Imbrogno. But the influx of inmates did not require jail officials – who have recently raised concerns over jail overcrowding – to release any other inmates as a result, McGrath said.

“The courts have been really kind. How do you keep 60 people away from each other? For us, bringing them in smaller groups makes it much more manageable,” McGrath said. “It helps tremendously.”

Defense attorneys last week said they feared having so many suspects in one place would set up the defendants for failure in complying with judges’ orders not to contact fellow defendants. In addition to allegations of oxycodone distribution, law enforcement officials have said that many of the suspects are gang members.

“We know through classification which inmates may be co-defendants and who we need to keep separate,” McGrath said. “Rival gangs don’t mix well together.”

Since about one in five jail inmates already have gang affiliations, managing those populations “is another day at the office for us,” McGrath said.

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