Sheriff appeals to public for help in getting inmates transported; Montana Supreme Court rules in favor of DOC on inmate transfers
The Cascade County Adult Detention Center has been overcrowded for years.
The jail population as of the morning of June 30 was about 460, according to Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter.
About 150 beds are reserved on the state prison side of the building, which is reserved for state inmates and the state contracts with the county for that part of the facility.
On the county jail side, capacity is 212, according to Capt. Keith Kaululaau, the jail commander. On June 30, Kaululauu said the jail side had 312 people.
Of those, 38 are people who have been convicted and sentenced to Montana Department of Corrections facilities but have not been transferred. One of those inmates, Brandon Craft, has been held in the county jail for more than 1,000 days, including his pre-trial hold, Slaughter said.
Housing those DOC inmates has been a point of contention for Cascade County and DOC for months.
In April, county district court judges issued orders requiring that DOC move the inmates or the county would transport them to DOC. The DOC responded and the case moved to the Montana Supreme Court where it is still pending.
Slaughter said during a June 30 media briefing that the DOC inmates have been the “cause of overcrowding for months.”
He said the state has started moving some of the inmates sentenced to DOC custody, but slowly.
Slaughter said he’s been calling the DOC and Gov. Steve Bullock’s office to discuss the issue and neither has returned his calls.
“This is unacceptable,” he said Tuesday.
In an email to The Electric, DOC said it had “participated in a productive conference call with Sheriff Slaughter this afternoon regarding his concerns about prisoner movement. The DOC looks forward to connecting with its law enforcement partners to explore appropriate solutions to alleviate the pressure placed on facilities as a result of COVID-19. The health and safety of our staff and inmates, in addition to those being housed in detention centers throughout the state, remain our top priority as we work through this process.”
At the end of day Tuesday, Slaughter said Bullock’s office had called him back and he spoken to DOC but that in his opinion, the issue remained unresolved until inmates are transferred.
The Montana Supreme Court also issued its order on the case Tuesday afternoon.
In the order, the higher court stated that the DOC had supervisory control over the placement of inmates and vacated the district court judge’s April 2 order to move the inmates.
“We reject the notion, however, that DOC has unfettered discretion, unreviewable by this court, to house inmates in any manner it sees fit for any reason, or for no reason at all,” according to the Supreme Court’s order. “Certainly circumstances could exist where this court would consider a write of mandate or writ of habeas corpus for the alleged ‘warehousing’ of an inmate of for DOC’s failure to effectuate the sentencing and correctional policies of the state. This is not the case presented here.”
The county maintains that DOC should have moved the inmates before the governor’s April 1 order, the Supreme Court’s order states that transportation of inmates is restricted under the governor’s directive though DOC has since resumed transports.
“Considering the number of inmates statewide who may be subject to a transfer order at any given time and the protocols in place to minimize the threat of COVID-19 within the correctional system, this court declines to dictate the speed at which such transports must occur in a particular case.”
Slaughter said he’s asking county residents to call the governor’s office and demand action.
He said he needs to free up space at the jail to house criminals, especially going into a holiday weekend. Over Memorial Day weekend, Slaughter said that about 45 people were booked into the jail.
Jail overcrowding has long been an issue in Cascade County, though before COVID-19, CCSO officials said the jail population had dropped to close to capacity. Now it’s back up by about 100 people.
“This isn’t a new thing,” Slaughter said, but Bullock’s order to halt transports without DOC approval during COVID has caused the jail population to spike.
Slaughter said inmates were sleeping on floors and the overcrowding makes spacing difficult.
“It’s dangerous,” he said.
Federal grand juries have resumed so federal holds will also be happening at the county jail, which can bring a few dozen people at a time. That was the situation that pushed the jail population over 500 in July 2018 and 14 were charged in connection to a riot that month.