HELENA — It’s been just over a month since Lewis and Clark County leaders announced the completion of a long-awaited expansion at the county detention center. Most of the county’s inmates who had been at other facilities have now been moved back, but leaders say the jail still isn’t operating at full capacity.
The detention center was originally to hold 80 inmates, but had become severely overcrowded in recent years. The county often had between 95 and 115 inmates in the facility. Dozens more had to be transported to other facilities, particularly the detention centers in Broadwater and Gallatin Counties.
Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said the county had to pay other agencies $75 to $80 a day to hold their inmates. At the height, he estimated they were paying $400,000 a year.
“That was money that was leaving the county, that was not being spent back here,” he said.
After the nearly $9 million renovation, the detention center now has 154 inmate beds – though Dutton said they generally expect to have about 28 of those beds, or about 18%, open. Specific areas of the jail are set aside for male and female inmates and for low, medium and high security.
“It’s not just, ‘We have a person; we have a bed,’” Dutton said. “You have to have a spot for where their classification puts them.”
Dutton said, since the expansion was completed, they have brought five to ten inmates back to Lewis and Clark County from the Broadwater County Detention Center, along with several being held for the Montana Department of Corrections. However, he said four inmates are still being housed outside the county – not because of a lack of space, but because they need to be kept separate from others in the facility.
“There’s going to be one or two that we’re going to have to relocate for security issues – for their own security,” said Dutton.
As of Friday morning, the sheriff’s office reported 90 inmates in the jail – well below the highest numbers they had even before the expansion. That lower number has meant they can bring inmates back in, even as they have not been able to open one of the jail’s new pods.
Dutton said they have not been able to bring on enough detention officers to staff the so-called “direct supervision” pod, where about 40 lower-risk inmates would share an open housing area with individual bunks. He said some new hires have only stayed on for three to six months, in what he described as the “harsh conditions” of the jail.
“We’ve had them, we get them trained, and individuals that we have hired decide that job isn’t for them,” he said.
LCSO currently has 54 detention officers on staff. Dutton said they would need five more to be able to open the direct supervision pod. He said they are currently interviewing to try to fill the vacancies.