City responds to sheriff’s restriction on admissions to Cascade County jail

Earlier this week, Sheriff Bob Edwards announced he was restricting admissions at the Cascade County Detention Center due to overcrowding.

That prompted swift push back from members of other law enforcement and judicial agencies.

On Wednesday, Great Falls City Attorney sent a formal response to the sheriff, indicating his directive “causes the city significant concern.”

Edwards limits jail admissions due to overcrowding

The concern, Sexe wrote, “relates to public and local community safety issues, degradation of the authority of the Municipal Court, the apparent failure to consider other options and the unilateral and immediate nature of your position which you sent via email,” at 3:31 p.m. Monday.

[READ: City Attorney Sara Sexe’s full letter]

Sexe cites Montana Code Annotated and states the sheriff is required to hold all persons committed by “competent authority,” essentially those mandated to jail by the court system.

Edwards told The Electric on Tuesday that he would not be releasing those convicted and sentenced to jail by a court or those mandated to jail while awaiting trial. Instead, he said, his order applies to new arrests.

Jail population decreasing, still overcrowded

Sexe and the city took issue with Edwards’ comments to the Tribune about a lack of cooperation from other agencies.

“The city and Municipal Court have consistently worked to reduce the number of inmates who may be sent to the CCDC and in the past, have worked cooperatively in such efforts with CCDC staff by being mindful of who is being sent to jail and who will be issued summons or order to appear in court,” Sexe wrote. “It does put the city and community in difficult and potentially dangerous positions when its officers are not able to arrest individuals who may fall into the ‘lesser’ category of offenses, as the officers must be able to take action immediately to prevent offenses at a higher level.”

Sexe wrote that since jail was still accepting state and federal inmates, “presumably accepting these inmates over those incarcerated by Municipal Court is a financial decision by your office to take inmates from agencies who pay direct dollars for the incarceration.”

City records indicate that none of the inmates incarcerated by Municipal Court order are there as a result of municipal ordinance violations, meaning they were arrested, charges and ordered to jail on violations of state law.

“It does not appear consistent with your responsibility to the citizens of Great Falls and Cascade County that you displace the comparatively few inmates from Municipal Court for the income-producing federal, out-of-state, or out-of-county inmates,” Sexe wrote. “Other agencies may have the ability to send their inmates to other facilities, whereas the Great Falls Municipal Court does not.”

The detention of federal or out-of-state inmates in local detention facilities can be done only under a narrow set of circumstances, according to a 2007 Montana Attorney General opinion cited in Sexe’s letter. The law was not to allow the routine interstate exchange of inmates in and out of Montana, Sexe wrote, “therefore, you’re July 23 stated practice of releasing local criminals that have not been legally discharged, if for the purpose of financially profiting on federal or other inmates, appears to violate this public policy.”

In the letter, the city suggests other options should be considered such as asking District Court judges to designate confinement of inmates to detention centers in contiguous counties; send federal or non-county inmates to other facilities so that local citizens are served directly; and work cooperatively with other agencies to come up with solutions.

Sexe sent the letter to County Attorney Josh Racki and the chief of the civil division, Carey Ann Haight.

“The City of Great Falls asserts that your unilateral protocol is not consistent with Montana statute, undermines the authority of the Municipal Court, is contrary to community interests, does not consider other alternatives and may subject the County to liability.”