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Old 06-28-2005, 05:53 PM
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Default Article: Missoula County Jail in "Crisis" of Overcrowding

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Missoula County jail in 'crisis' of overcrowding

By The Associated Press - 06/28/05

MISSOULA (AP) - Inmates are sleeping on cell floors or being shipped
as far away as Havre because the county jail is too crowded,
authorities said.

County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg called the situation a
''crisis,'' asking his staff last week to find inmates who could be
released early to make room for more serious offenders. Similar
efforts are under way in the sheriff's department.

''You can't really tell people, 'Don't go out and find druggies and
meth labs,''' sheriff's Capt. Susan Hintz said. ''But we've been
filtering out, the best we can, the less-serious people. We've asked
judges not to sentence people here unless they have to.''

The jail has been overcrowded since a year after it opened six years
ago, but has reached dangerous and inhumane levels that put the
county at risk of a lawsuit, Sheriff Mike McMeekin said.

A jail employee was so frustrated he recently sent out photographs of
men sleeping on the hard floor of a cell meant for stays of an hour
or two, not overnight bookings. He pleaded in an e-mail to government
officials: ''This can't go on.''

As of last week, 44 inmates - or 10 percent of the county's jail
population - were in other facilities as far away as Havre, McMeekin
said. The county budgeted $12,500 this year to pay other counties to
house its prisoners, but costs have reached $100,000, not including
transportation.

Because of overcrowding, some criminals go unpunished or wait months
to serve their time. People sentenced to jail for drunken driving are
sent home because there's no room for them, McMeekin said.

The county has no money for a new jail. Instead, McMeekin and county
commissioners are considering turning the county fairgrounds into
weekend jail cells to handle the backlog of drunken drivers waiting
to do their time.

Ann Mary Dussault, the county's chief administrative officer, is also
suggesting a summit of law enforcement, jail, detention and county
leaders to discuss a plan of action.

Missoula may need more and expanded alternatives to jail, such as
electronic monitors, expanded addiction treatment programs and more
community service, officials said. McMeekin said he's working on a
''state of detention'' report.

''Getting the figures is easy,'' he said. ''What to do with them
isn't.''

Information from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com

http://www.helenair.com/articles/200...7062805_02.txt



Deb
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