I-Team Investigation: Repeat Offenders
It takes hundreds of thousands of dollars in food and medical bills to care for the hundreds of inmates moving in and out of our county jails.
The I-Team has uncovered a disturbing trend: many of these men and women are not first time offenders.
In fact, at any given time, local sheriffs told us 50 percent of the jail population is what some call "frequent flyers" or repeat offenders.
"Traffic violation. Failure to appear on a summons," Cape County Jail Administrator Captain J.P. Mulcahy read from his computer screen.
Those charges landed Nathan Todd Oxley in the Cape Girardeau County Jail back in 2004. It would be place Oxley soon got used to.
"As we go down the road, we have started slowly getting possession of controlled substances," Mulcahy pointed out.
Oxley's had 19 bookings in nine years.
As Oxley's mug shots started adding up, Jail administrator J.P. Mulcahy pointed out, so do the severity of the charges against him.
The Captain's computer screen started showing assault and stealing.
In 2009, Oxley spent several months in a state prison, but he wasn't gone long.
"He went to the Department of Corrections, got out, and then he's back in the jail."
Does there tend to be a common factor when it comes to those men and women who are in and out on a more frequent basis, we asked Cape Girardeau County Sheriff John Jordan.
"Yeah, you know I've been doing this 30 years now," he said. "Day one on the job until today, it's still drugs. And it's not necessarily the dealing of drugs, but the abuse of drugs."
While the state of Missouri's making progress in reducing returns to prison, Jordan admitted they just don't have the resources on the local level to help inmates turn their lives around.
"County time is hard time," Jordan said candidly. "A lot of people think hey, it must be a cake walk. It's not. Most of them who've been in the system several times, will tell you they would rather be in the penitentiary than in a county jail."
Jordan said outsourcing their food and medical care has saved some taxpayer dollars, but the costs still add up.
"Their room, board and medical is basically, they're footing the bill for that," he said. "And even though they are a state prisoner, we don't get reimbursed from the state unless they go to the Department of Corrections."
Down in Butler County, Sheriff Mark Dobbs showed us one of the cell areas in his 125 inmate capacity jail.
We asked him what kind of issues he had in his jail with repeat offenders.
"You know, some of the people that we've seen, and that we see on a regular basis, are people I saw 20 years ago," Dobbs said.
One of those long-time repeat offenders was actually a guy Sheriff Dobbs grew up with.
His name is Andre Matlock, and he and two other inmates spoke very candidly about why they keep finding themselves behind bars in Butler County.
At 43 years old, Matlock said he has a hard time remembering just how many times he's been locked up in Butler County.
"Well, this jail, maybe four, but the old jail, I couldn't even count it, maybe 30 to 40 times," he said.
He was in this time on a probation violation for a theft charge. Matlock pointed to his hometown as part of the problem.
"When I come to Poplar Bluff, I get in trouble", he said. "I guess it's old friends, you know, old things, old places. And you get the same results, really."
Matlock has known Mark Dobbs since grade school.
We asked if he was getting tired of seeing the sheriff.
"Yeah," he answered with a laugh. "Yeah, I'm getting tired of seeing him. He's probably getting tired of seeing me too, but I keep him in a job so he's probably happy about that."
Matlock said his run-ins with the law began at age 17.
We heard the same thing from these two repeat offenders, Kevin Irby and Kenny Koch.
Irby's been here 11 times, Koch 33. When we asked why, they offered almost identical answers.
"I just, I'm addicted to the fast life", Koch admitted candidly. "As soon as I step out, I forget what it's like being in jail. And I just get to running amuck, kind of. You know I just, I try to make up for lost time and it causes me more problems."
"I just got out of prison June 18th and I violated my probation," Irby said. "And I just keep coming back and coming back. You know what it's like when I get on the streets I forget about it, and I just get back out there and start doing the same stuff I was doing when I got arrested."
Irby, serving as a trustee, had just a few more days to serve when we met him.
"And I just got to get out there and show them different this time when I get out," he said.
Change their minds, we asked.
"Yeah, that's what I got to do," Irby answered. "And I'm going to do that. I'm going to put 100 percent into it."
Koch had one last day here before heading to state prison for seven years and sounded surprisingly optimistic.
"Well, it's one step closer to home, so it's a good feeling," he told us about beginning his sentence. "But at the same time, it's not cool going back through the gates."
Sheriff Dobbs believed some of his regulars may find life behind bars more appealing than on the streets.
"I've had some of them even tell me, there's no stress in jail," Dobbs said. "There are no bills to be paid. There are no family issues to be hashed out, anything like that. It's three guaranteed meals a day. And a lot of times, it's better living conditions and a better environment than where they came from."
Last year, Butler County spent more than $200,000 on jail food, another $100,000 on medical care.
We asked Matlock if there's ever a positive to being here.
"I guess for your family, maybe, because they know where you're at," he said. "They don't have to worry about you. You know, they know you're getting fed. They know you're getting clothed. They know you're bathing, you know."
When we spoke with Matlock, he was awaiting a court date that would determine if he goes back to prison for 120 days, or up to seven years.
"I could make it on the street if I had the opportunity that other people had," Matlock continued. "I know I'm not a victim, so I'm not trying to blame other people for not giving me the opportunity because it's my own fault, you know, that I messed up. And I continue to mess up."
"I know I say this all the time," he said. "If I could just have one more shot at it, I think I'll be alright, you know?"
So, what's the solution to a clearly costly problem?
If you listen to the men behind bars, they're lacking any real opportunities once they get out. As Sheriff Jordan said, county time is hard time; no rehab programs or opportunities to learn new skills.
As for the three men we interviewed, Kenny Koch's a month into that seven year prison sentence.
Sheriff Dobbs said Kevin Irby got caught smuggling tobacco into the jail just days after our interview and is back in prison on a five year sentence.
Andre Matlock's wife told us he faces sentencing in November and it's expected he will be headed back to prison for the next several years.