Boone County Watchdog tipped me off about a new revenue source for the blog’s home county: transporting and housing federal prisoners. The full story comes from the Register Star:

BELVIDERE — A negotiating firm plans to generate tens of thousands of dollars in new revenue for the Boone County jail without changing day-to-day operations.

The Summerill Group, LLC will negotiate with the U.S. Marshals Service the amount that the Boone County Sheriff’s Office is paid for housing and transporting federal prisoners. Joseph Summerill, managing principal of the agency, said in a contract a preliminary analysis indicated that the county could increase its per diem from $65 per inmate per day to $79.12.

If the average daily federal prisoner count remains at 18, the new rate would generate an additional $92,000 in revenue annually, boosting the county’s total revenue from federal prisoner housing to $519,000.

Yes, and if that happens, Boone County will be able to hire a new public defender and buy a squad car or two.

Boone County houses prisoners from DeKalb County as well. Boone must have really overbuilt its jail to have captured at least two nontraditional revenue streams from outside.

But DeKalb County not only sends its prisoner overflow to Boone. According to a September 2013 report from Northern Public Radio, DeKalb regularly has up to 40-50 inmates farmed out to Boone and/or Kendall counties at a cost of about $1 million a year. One reason, according to the article, is that housing prisoners with mental health issues lowers capacity.

Kendall County built a lot of jail space in response to explosive growth and it turns out they have extra space for now. But what happens if the other counties whose inmates they accommodate, such as DeKalb, expand their own jail spaces?

[Kendall County Sheriff Richard] Randall doesn’t seem to worry about losing this revenue if bigger jails are built elsewhere. He says they could use the extra space to house the homeless.

Everybody knows that prisons are big business now, while actually helping people is not. And in this context, efforts to incarcerate people with mental illness have been so successful over the last couple generations that the temptation to detain bothersome homeless people and youth must feel downright irresistible some days.

I don’t know about you, but I’m appalled at this casual attitude about “accommodating” people with mental illness and housing problems behind bars, especially when we also feed off their misery to fund governments.

If it were up to me, I’d take another look at the already-controversial DeKalb County jail expansion to determine how much of the overpopulation includes people who never belonged there in the first place. It’s high time we stop accepting incarceration as the default and work out more appropriate alternatives.