GREAT FALLS – It has been one week since Cascade County Sheriff Bob Edwards announced that he will not be accepting into the jail people with non-violent misdemeanor warrants and people charged with non-violent misdemeanors.
On Saturday, several dozen inmates rioted at the jail, causing thousands of dollars in damage.
As of Monday, there are 488 inmates in the Cascade County Detention Center; that is down from 531 inmates one week ago.
On Friday, Sheriff Edwards talked with civic leaders to go over how we got here. “This is originally designed to be really two facilities encompassed in one, to hold 360 inmates. 154 or 155 of those inmates are contract beds for the state. The State of Montana and the prison own those beds. They put forth money to build that pod,” Edwards said.
Edwards says they are currently under a 20-year contract with the state and to break it would cost the county millions of dollars. The county side of the jail ends up with 206 bed to 212 beds. There are maximum security units that are single cells, which brings the county number down to 188 beds.
“Those that need to be in jail, need to be in jail. I am not going to jeopardize public safety that way,” Edwards said.
Commander Dan O’Fallon has been running the detention center since it opened almost 20 years ago. O’Fallon broke down the numbers and explained why the jail is currently overcrowded and why they need to the paying beds to stay.
They currently have a contract with the federal government to have 30 beds available for federal inmates. O’Fallon says that before federal inmates are transferred out of state, they are transferred to the jail in Great Falls.
But more than a week ago, there was an issue with the plane that carries the federal prisoners out of state, and that’s where the overcrowding issue pushed Edwards to make his decision. “The flight broke down four times. Our numbers started to grow,” O’Fallon said.
The federal government had rented a commercial airliner to be able to take these inmates out of Montana, but they ended up refusing all the inmates.
O’Fallon said this was due to one of the inmates bringing scabies into the detention center. This caused all the other jails to refuse the inmates, so Cascade County had 88 federal inmates to house. That is what spiked the inmate population to 531.
“Since then we have been able to lower our population due to the cooperation of Parole and Probation; they took a handful up to Fort Benton, we filed up Broaddwater County, so we have been working diligently to lower our population,” O’Fallon said.
O’Fallon said they never wanted to get to this point but they had to do something. “I can give you a breakdown on why we are overcrowded, the Sheriff said a minute ago we have 188 beds,” O’Fallon said.
Out of those 188 beds, they currently have 167 pretrial felons – these are the people in jail awaiting trial.
One person is being held by the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office; 29 inmates are being held for the City of Great Falls Court.
There are four for Justice Court and another four for District Court.
Lastly, there are four being held for Treatment Court.
“Those are your local needed beds. That adds up. That comes out to 209 so we are already 20 over our capacity,”
There are also 6,000 warrants waiting to be served in the county at this time.
“I feel bad that we have to say no, but where are we going to book them?” O’Fallon said.
O’Fallon also said that they have treated the inmates who were infected by the scabies but on Friday they found some more in the jail. They are in the process of decontaminating 500 inmates and the Detention Center.
The operating budget for the jail is a little under $10 million dollars: “Local tax dollars, we get earmarked to run a $9.1 million dollar budget, is $1.2 million dollars,” O’Fallon sad.
O’Fallon said the jail was designed to be run with a various number of contracts. The jail has a contract with the State of Montana to house inmates and that generates $3.8 million dollars a year. The jail also has a contract for federal inmates through the United States Marshal Service.
“That contract says we must have at least 30 beds available to the federal inmates,” O’Fallon said. That contract comes out to $875,000 a year.
O’Fallon said they are still short $2.4 million dollars to be able to run the facility. They are able to fill the budget gap with miscellaneous numbers throughout the year. Without the contracts they would have to go to the taxpayers to help make up the budget shortfall they would be facing.
Reporting by Margaret DeMarco for MTN News