Lewis & Clark County

Nov 27, 2012 10:48 AM by Melissa Anderson (melissa@kxlh.com)

Officials address jail over-crowding

Last week we told you about a plan to build a new mental health crisis center in Helena.

One of the major needs is a place to house jail inmates who are suicidal.

Just last week, one inmate was sent to the state's mental hospital in Warm Springs, while another, who attempted to commit suicide, was sent to prison.

Lewis & Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton explained, "In the last month we've had approximately four (suicide attempts). And they've not been successful because of the detention officers being on top of it and working well with the inmates."

While not all suicide attempts are considered mental health issues, they are considered a crisis.

The overcrowding situation at the Lewis & Clark County Detention Center has heightened awareness about inmates with urgent needs that are tough to meet.

Detention Center Captain Dave Fradette noted, "You know there's a percentage of the population of the people that are here that have been diagnosed with some sort of mental illness. So at times when they are here they may go into crisis for various reasons."

While the jail houses an average of around 90 inmates per day, others are shipped off to other jails in Broadwater and Gallatin counties.

Double-bunking in some cells may have gotten inmates off the floor, but for those who need closer supervision, the library and even booking cells are used to monitor their well being.

"We really only have one cell that is set up for what you would consider protective custody. It has a bed and a sink and a toilet in it," said Captain Fradette.

The new mental health crisis center, the location of which has yet to be determined, will be a temporary crisis holding center for those inmates who cannot be served elsewhere.

"The secured side will help patients that are suffering from acute symptoms," explained County Public Works Assistant Director Kyle Thomas.

Last year there were 192 transports to and from mental health facilities such as Warm Springs from Lewis & Clark County.

"So this will help have a different facility where we won't have to travel that far," said Thomas.

Supporters of the new crisis facility hope, if nothing else, it will fill a temporary void, providing a safer and healthier environment.

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