Crowded Butte jail makes conditions difficult for staff and inmates

Posted at 6:48 PM, Nov 02, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-03 00:02:53-04

BUTTE – Butte’s Detention Center is a busy place. But it wasn’t always that way.

“When I first started I think we had 20 to 30 inmates, now we’re hanging up over 100 inmates,” said Chief Detention Officer Mark Johnson.

When Butte’s detention center was first built 16 years ago, it was designed for a maximum of 75 inmates. The jail has held as many as 120 inmates in recent weeks. Law enforcement blames the rise methamphetamine and opioid drug for the surge in incarceration.

“We see a lot of crime associated with methamphetamine, both possession, and usage of methamphetamine, but we also have all the spinoff crimes that are property related or financial related that people use to finance their habits for methamphetamine and now we have the influx of opiates as well,” said Butte Sheriff Ed Lester.

Johnson added, “When they come in under the influence they’ve been running hard for a long time and when they come off of this we’ll have them hallucinating, real sick, really agitated.”

The increased population of inmates puts a heavy strain on the 28 detention officers that must keep a sharp eye on the inmates.

“From the time they walk in the door until the time they leave, they run. There is a lot of work for a very minimal amount of staff,” said Johnson.

With more inmates, there is a greater chance inmates and corrections officers can get hurt.

“If tensions are high inmates are more likely to assault each other, they’re more likely to assault a staff member, a detention officer, so we always try to minimize the stress in a facility and you’re really limited when you have a high census that we do,” said Lester.

This is one of the holding cells in the Butte Detention Center, it’s about 8X10, it has one toilet, one sink, it’s the same size as the cells they have in the general population and, if it’s really busy, they can hold up to three inmates in one cell.

“When you start getting 20, 25 people into a pod, it’s a tight area, tensions run high and it only takes one person to say the wrong thing to the wrong guy and it makes for a long shift,” said Johnson.

Jail overcrowding is a problem all over the state and incarceration should not be the only answer.

“You have to find creative ways; everybody can’t just come to jail,” he said.

Reporting by John Emeigh for MTN News