Still no deal to reopen Mineral County detention center

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From left, County Commissioner Roman Zylawy, County Attorney Ellen Donohue and CCCS CEO Mike Thatcher chat about the Mineral County jail closure at a public meeting on Tuesday, June 25. (Maggie Dresser/Mineral Independent)

Following attempts to reopen the Mineral County jail with help from a nonprofit private corporation, the detention center will remain closed when both failed to reach an agreement.

The Mineral County Commissioners held a public meeting on Tuesday, June 25 with Community, Counseling, and Correctional Services Incorporated (CCCS) CEO Mike Thatcher to discuss his potential proposal. However, Thatcher told officials that he could not collaborate with Mineral County to reopen the jail.

CCCS specializes in private pre-release and treatment programs based in Butte and operates in Washington, North Dakota and Montana.

“If I was sitting in your shoes and if I was gonna run this as a 12-bed jail, I wouldn’t hire CCCS,” Thatcher said. “You couldn’t afford to do it. I’m just being blunt.”

Thatcher and officials originally discussed leasing 16 beds to CCCS while the county would maintain the remaining 12. Thatcher proposed to the Montana Department of Corrections that he could use the beds for intermediate sanctions.

Sanctions refer to people who fall between probation and incarceration and serve in jail for about 30 days. But after speaking with the Montana Department of Corrections, they stressed that they were not interested.

“They were pretty clear that we’re not buying jail beds. From Butte, Mineral County, nobody,” Thatcher said.

The 2017 legislature passed House Bill 133 which capped populations at 250 inmates due to overcrowding, and facilities receive a $1 million penalty if they exceed that number, according to Thatcher.

Due to overcrowding, Montana Department of Corrections needs to keep county jail beds open in order to place overflow inmates.

“When the prison is full and when people are supposed to be in prison, they would house those state prisoners in county jail,” County Commissioner Roman Zylawy said. “Mineral County jail used to have our own inmates plus DOC inmates that were sitting in our jail and we were receiving payment.”

Thatcher said the state is currently below that 250 capacity, and they want to stay there to avoid penalties. Following the 2017 legislative session, the Montana Department of Corrections has been trying to keep numbers down.

“We were wondering why we weren’t getting any inmates,” Zylawy said. “You cannot have more than 250 inmates in Montana.”

Zylawy said fewer people are in jail after House Bill 133 passed and the state sentenced more people on house arrest to cut costs.

While Mineral County still needs a facility to house their own inmates, House Bill 133 prevents CCCS from making a deal.

“We need the detention facility to be open to deal with the people who need to be in jail,” County Attorney Ellen Donohue said. “Being along Interstate 90 we are hopping. For a county with 4,200 people we have crime at levels of counties that have two and three times our population.”

Ideas to reopen the jail are a response to its closure in January, when the 28-bed jail closed following a detention officer shortage. The jail needs a minimum of five officers to run the facility and the county didn’t receive enough applicants to begin the hiring process.

Deputies currently transport inmates to the Sanders County Jail in Thompson Falls and the Missoula County Jail, leaving fewer deputies to patrol. Mineral County must pay $78 per day to Sanders County and $108 per day to Missoula County facilities to house an inmate.

Mineral County could contract with Sanders County long-term, but Donohue says they do not want to go that route.

“It’s not just the $78 a day, it’s the officers, it’s the mileage, just the work trying to figure out how to get these people to court,” Donohue said. “All those costs and just the time and worry about driving liability. Just the $78 a day is not what it’s actually costing.” Mineral County officials are back at ground zero following the deal failure with Thatcher, but they will continue brainstorming solutions.

“It still seems to be the same chicken and egg problem,” Zylawy said.

The Commissioners will hold another public meeting to discuss the detention center Friday, July 12. The time has yet to be announced.

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