Limitation on jail admissions “cautiously” lifted

The restrictions on admissions to the Cascade County Adult Detention Center have been cautiously lifted.

The restrictions were lifted as of 2 p.m. March 8, but in an email to local law enforcement agencies, Sheriff Jesse Slaughter that they “please encourage everyone to still be selective with who they bring to the facility but we will no longer have the restrictions in place so long as our inmate counts stay reasonable. We will continue to balance the needs of community safety, which is paramount, with the safety needs of our facility.”

As of about 3 p.m. Thursday, the jail population was 450.

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Sheriff Jesse Slaughter told The Electric on Thursday that his staff has been working with other law enforcement agencies and the judicial system to make sure they aren’t holding a bunch of people on nonviolent offenses for failure to pay fines.

The Cascade County Sheriff’s Office needs to have empty beds available for violent offenders to ensure public safety, Slaughter said.

By Thursday, it was already busy at the Municipal Court.

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Warrants and unpaid fines had been piling up since July when the former sheriff limited jail admissions.

Since July 1, 2018, the total arrest warrants and bench warrants issued from Municipal Court was 1,622 with bonds totaling $1,200,285.

For some perspective, there have been 4,977 total number of warrants issued from Municipal Court since Jan. 1, 2000 with bonds totaling $3,367,106.

More simply, of the total bonds issued in nearly two decades, just over a third has been issued in the last 7.5 months.

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Municipal court officials attribute that rapid increase in warrants and fines to the jail limitations that were instituted in July.

Slaughter, along with other county officials, have been working on options for pre-trial and the 24/7 alcohol monitoring program as part of efforts to reduce the jail population.

He said that the county is preparing to seek bids from private companies or other public agencies to operate both programs.

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The 24/7 program has been at the jail on Gore Hill, but local judges and other officials had concerns over the safety of participants if they were walking up the interstate ramp among others.

Last year, the former CCSO administration said it was moving the program to the courthouse, but that never happened.

Slaughter said they’re looking at contracting with a community partner to administer that program and it likely won’t be at the courthouse.

He said he’s hoping to start the contracting process this spring.

“We’ll see who jumps at it,” he said.

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The pre-trial program will use the risk assessment tool that’s currently free for the county to use through the Montana Supreme Court, but how that program will be developed is still coming together.

“There’s a lot of moving parts to it,” Slaughter said.

Slaughter said he wants to try all other options before giving any consideration to expanding the jail, which would be a significant cost to taxpayers.

Slaughter is also turning three deputy positions that were included in the current county budget into an additional two deputy positions.

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The bailiff positions were added into the budget last summer as corrections officers or civilians, which created a number of issues since civilians can’t swear in juries and raised questions about their authority over people who hadn’t been convicted, among other issues.

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Slaughter said converting the positions to deputies would clear up those constitutional issues and cut down on overtime costs.

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He said that one of the highest overtime costs was callbacks for bailiff duty so having two more deputies on day shift with bailiff duties as their primary obligation will lower overtime costs.

When those deputies aren’t needed in court, they’ll check on schools and serve civil papers, Slaughter said.