HELENA – Lewis and Clark County voters on Tuesday approved a 15-year operations and maintenance levy for a renovated, 160 bed County Jail.
Last year voters approved a bond to expand the jail but didn’t approve a levy for operations.
Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said he’s relieved with the election result.
“I’m just really thankful. I want to say thanks from the bottom of my heart on behalf of all of our staff,” said Dutton.
Dutton said many people, including his staff and citizens, stepped up to make sure the jail levy passed.
“When they got to see it. When they got to smell, and taste and feel and then see the peril that the detention officers are working under. They reached into their pockets and said yes,” says Dutton.
Now Dutton says, the real work begins, finding a new home for the Sheriff’s Office and Helena Police Department and beginning the process to design and remodel the law enforcement center into a detention facility.
“And select an architecture and construction and design/build team,” added Dutton. “That’s probably six months out. And that gives us time to find a new home. So probably by the time this all happens, it might be a year out. A year and some.”
But this issue isn’t just about bricks and mortar.
Dutton says the local criminal justice system needs to deal with the root causes that put people in jail, mental health, substance abuse, education and poverty.
“We still have to get our pre-trial up and running,” said Dutton. “We still need our jail diversion programs running. But we have to look at say, just locking them up is not working.”
And that, Dutton says, will take time.
“Have a quality of life that they would be more productive and that equates to us having a better quality of life. So it’s an investment, it really is, it’s an investment. It’s going to take work, dedication, perseverance, and a faith that this is going to work.”
*Continue watching for an extended interview with Sheriff Dutton