Frequently Asked Questions


1.     Why is this important?

*Public safety is Job One for any government, especially local government.  That is the goal of this initiative. 

*A Citizens Advisory Council report has demonstrated the need to evaluate all aspects of our criminal justice system in order to address the facility needs.

*Overcrowded conditions are dangerous for guards, inmates, and employees who work in those conditions.


2.     Why is this matter being presented to voters now?

a.     The County has been evaluating our needs for detention space since 2010.

b.     Current facility was designed to house 54 inmates, and we averaged 110 inmates in our custody for the month of June, 2017.

c.      The evaluation process included the commissioning of studies and reports on the operations and physical building. 

d.     District Court Judges, Justice of the Peace, City Judge, County Attorney, Office of Public Defender, Probation and Parole, Helena Police Chief, Helena City Manager, Board of County Commissioners, Youth Probation, and members of the public have evaluated our system needs as a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) and have recommended moving forward with this levy question.

e.      The current facility is unsafe for both our staff and the people in our custody.


3.     Can I see these conditions for myself?

*Yes.  We encourage you to take a tour of the detention center to learn more and form your own conclusions.  Jail tours are available on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 11am or 11:45 am or on Saturdays at 10am.  You can schedule to take a tour by calling Allen Ireland with the Sheriff’s Office at (406) 447-8235 or (406) 447-8204.


4.     Why are you asking for a 15 year levy to pay the costs of operation?

a.     The current jail is operated under the Public Safety Mill Levy approved by the voters in 2000.  That levy provides funding for the entire Sheriff’s Office and has allowed the elected Sheriff to budget for the costs of providing comprehensive public safety throughout the community.  No one considered the needs of the more than 100 prisoners we house each day.  The levy on the ballot in November is to fund the costs to operate the renovated facility and identified programming at full capacity and at a cost estimated in the future.  The full operating levy will not be implemented right away; it may reach its maximum when our detention population justifies the positions and costs associated with housing additional inmates.

b.     Voters have already approved a general obligation bond to renovate the existing Law Enforcement Center and increase our ability to house the inmates.  The general obligation bond which voters approved is for $6.5million.  This levy question will fund the operations and maintenance along with several diversion programs recommendations and improvements to our local criminal justice system.  These recommendations were made by a Citizens Advisory Council (CAC) in 2015.


5.     What is the status of the land purchase which was done in advance of a past vote?

The County, through capital investment and long term financial planning, had the funds available to secure 40 acres of land located northeast of I15.  The acquisition of the land was completed and the City of Helena and the County are working to identify public purpose uses for the property.  Plans now are for the City to possibly acquire these acres for their needs.

The proposed levy is intended to provide funding for operations and maintenance needed for the existing Detention Center located in downtown Helena.


6.     What will the proposal cost?

a.     The operating levy, at full value will be $4,000,000. 

b.     The Department of Revenue certifies the taxable value for property in Lewis and Clark County.  Once the full value of the levy is implemented, it is estimated that the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $42.86 annually for the levy. The owner of a $200,000 home would pay $85.72.

c.      The operating levy includes significant funding for system improvements and diversion in order to ensure public safety and reserve costly jail beds for only those that need secure detention.  The planning process included representatives from our Criminal Justice system, the general public, and special interest groups and advocates for system reform.

d.      The identified system improvements include early childhood intervention coordination; implementation of pretrial services to establish a risk assessment and implement supervision techniques for people that can be released from custody; adoption and evaluation of appropriate jail standards; mental health programming, case management, and discharge planning for incarcerated individuals needing services; and stability funding for crisis services throughout our community.  All the initiatives are aimed at reducing the long term detention needs and to limit the use of expensive incarceration for only those that truly need it.


7.     Who is in our jail?

a.     The vast majority of inmates in our custody are felony level offenders awaiting disposition of their criminal charges.  They are pretrial defendants arrested and charged with a crime stuck in the system.  Some are accused of violating the terms of their probation; some are facing multiple charges in multiple courts; some have violated previously imposed release conditions; but all are incarcerated because they cannot afford to post a bond or financial guarantee to secure their release.  All pretrial defendants in our jail are being housed at the County’s expense.  .


8.      What specific improvements are intended due to the General Obligation bond    which was passed?  What is the $6.5 million being used for?

a.      A Feasibility Study completed in 2016 identified the improvements to be completed.

b.     The lower, main and upper levels of the existing Law Enforcement Center will be converted to detention center space and functions; extensive remodel of the building will occur to produce detention capacity.  The existing Sheriff’s Office and City of Helena Police functions located on the main floor will be moved out of the building.

c.      Electrical, plumbing, and ceiling renovations will be undertaken and plans will provide for both direct and indirect supervision of incarcerated individuals.   

d.     The remodel is intended to result in a minimum of 156 beds and is hoped to meet the needs for the next 10-15 years.


9. If the levy is passed, what are the intended specific uses for the $4million annually over the next 15 years?  Is there a plan?

a.      Staffing for operations of the renovated detention center. 

b.     Diversion, training, and criminal justice programs as identified in the Citizens Advisory Council (CAC) report to the CJCC.kk

c.      Mental Health, Pretrial, and early interventions resources will be provided.

d.     Initiatives aimed at reducing the long term detention needs and to limit the use of expensive incarceration for only those that truly need it.

e.      Pretrial services, mental health therapist/case manager, and building costs tied to insurance, safety and communications technology, and insurance.


10. What is the County doing now to deal with the challenges of the detention center population?

a.      Our Sheriff has reviewed the operational and staffing needs of the detention center and made operational changes to increase staffing. 

b.     The County Commission has identified the need for a full time position to coordinate criminal justice related actions and data collection for detention center related functions to reduce risks as possible.  A full time Risk Reduction Director position has been funded and placed for approval to be filled in the 2018 County budget.  The County is actively pursuing grant funding for this position.

c.      A family court and treatment court are being implemented by Judge Reynolds, 1st Judicial District.

d.     The County has pursued funding for treatment resources aimed at reducing the number of inmates.  A jail therapist and case worker have been funded in the past and the County is pursuing additional grant funding for these positions.

e.      A jail assessment report was conducted in 2015.  The assessment identifies factors that drive the prison population.


11. What does it cost to take care of a prisoner per day?

a.     $112.


12. What does the County spend per year to send prisoners elsewhere due to overcrowding?

a.      $150,000 - $250,000.

13. Can the County transport prisoners to other detention centers to deal with the overcrowding?  If not, why not?

a.     We are having a difficult time finding space for County inmates in out-of-county facilities.  The costs associated with transporting, providing medical care, room and board, and the delays in case processing for people held out-of-county are the responsibility of Lewis and Clark County.  As our population grows, and as other facilities run out of room, we are left with no option other than holding people on the floor and hallways of our over-crowded facility.  This practice cannot continue, for the safety of our staff and for the protection of the people in our custody.

14. Why is the levy amount $4 million?

a.     The amount is estimated based upon a Law Enforcement Center Feasibility Study completed in 2016.

b.     American Correction Association standards were reviewed as part of the staffing analysis.

c.      Programs, training, and diversion are also to be pursued.


15. What is the average personal cost to an accused inmate to bail out of Lewis and Clark County jail?

a.      There can be a wide range.  Per the 2015 jail assessment report, most of the admissions and releases are males under the age of 44 years.  When a bail is set the average bond is about $7,000.