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Lewis & Clark County close to moving into first remodeled floors of expanded jail

Posted at 6:46 PM, Jun 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-10 20:46:34-04

HELENA — Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office leaders say they are about a week away from being able to start using two newly remodeled floors at the county detention center.

The county is more than a year into its project to expand the detention center. Undersheriff Jason Grimmis said Wednesday that the first floor and basement are about 90% complete. He said he expects the contractor will hand the space over to LCSO next week.

“It’ll be nice to be able to take over two more floors that we’ve been working on and waiting on for quite a bit of time,” Grimmis said.

Grimmis said, before they begin using the floors for inmates, they will spend two to three weeks to train officers on new procedures.

“They need to know where they’re going, what doors to go through, because it’s a complete remodel on that basement floor,” he said. “It does not in any way resemble what it looked like a year and a half ago.”

The basement will now be used as an “intake area,” where inmates will be booked and assessed. The first floor will house inmates with lower security requirements, and it will also have room for medical response and some programs.

Grimmis said they plan to start using the new intake area around the end of this month. It will be longer before they start moving inmates onto the first floor, because they still need to hire more detention officers.

Leaders say there have been some delays due to COVID-19, particularly because contractors had issues getting some supplies. Grimmis said the project was delayed about two weeks overall.

The jail expansion project is aimed at addressing severe overcrowding that currently exists inside. The jail is currently holding more than 100 inmates – well above the 80 it was designed for.

“It raises the intensity level, and when that happens, it raises the threat level and the intensity around the officers, and it’s a safety risk,” said Grimmis. “I’m super excited about being able to open up these two floors when it’s appropriate, so we can give some elbow room to the staff, and as well as the inmates.”

Once inmates are moved into the lower floors, contractors will still have to make some minor renovations on the top floor. The full project is expected to continue through September.

The expansion project is funded by a $6.5 million bond Lewis and Clark County voters approved in 2016, along with just under $2 million from other county sources. Grimmis said the work has remained on budget.