Frequently Asked Questions
Lewis and Clark Jail Funding Levy
A modern jail for a safer Lewis and Clark County
What is the funding levy?
Our 32-year-old jail is overcrowded and outdated. Failing technology and overcrowding puts us all at risk. The funding levy allows jail improvements to move forward and will cover operating expenses for the new, modern jail.
The County’s number one job is safety for the public and our guards.
Didn’t we already approve jail improvements?
Yes. Lewis and Clark County voters in November 2016 approved a $6.5 million bond issue to improve and expand the jail. But voters DIDN’T approve the related $4 million levy required to operate the improved facility. The jail improvements approved by voters last year can’t move forward until the operations levy is also approved.
What’s wrong with the jail now?
The current jail is old and failing. The electronic control board that lets guard monitor cells is 32 years old and doesn’t work properly. Jail doors open and close randomly on their own. Forty monitoring cameras don’t work due to outdated software. This failing technology puts guards and the public in danger.
The jail is also overcrowded. It was constructed in 1985 to hold 54 inmates, but must now hold twice that number. Several guards have been injured – and even hospitalized - due to unsafe, crowded conditions.
What is the county doing to address the problems now?
Makeshift improvements over the years have helped the jail house more inmates, but it’s still not enough.
Bunks were added to cells to increase capacity, but it’s now necessary to place some prisoners in unsecured areas, such as the jail library and staff offices, due to overcrowding. Keeping inmates in these less secure areas places guards and the public at risk.
Taxpayers also pay more than $250,000 each year to transport overflow prisoners to jails in neighboring counties. This is expensive and only a short-term solution. Neighboring jails also are running out of space.
Currently, some offenders who should be in jail are not. There simply isn’t room for them. Law officers are writing tickets instead of making arrests. This puts the public at risk. It also results in more repeat crimes, since there are no “jail time” consequences for people who commit crimes.
How will the levy improve the jail and keep our county safe?
The levy allows for expansion of the jail and improved technology that will keep guards and the public safe. It will fund operation of the modern jail for the next 15 years. It also will fund intervention programs that will reduce repeat offenses and keep people out of the justice system.
How much will the levy cost?
The cost of the levy is $42.86 annually for the owner of a $100,000 home and $85.72 annually for the owner of a $200,000 home.
Can I see the problems for myself?
Yes. We encourage you to tour the jail to learn more. Tours are available Mondays through Thursdays at 11 a.m. or 11:45 a.m., or on Saturdays at 10 a.m. You can schedule a tour by calling Allen Ireland in the Sheriff’s Office at 447-8235 or 447-8204.
Who proposed the levy?
The Lewis and Clark Citizens Advisory Council, which includes District Court judges, the 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 has evaluated the need for jail improvements and has recommended putting the levy on this year’s election ballot.
When is the election?
Election Day is Nov. 7. Mail ballots will go out Oct. 18.
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 acquire these acres for their needs.
The County would obtain 15 acres from the City as part of these actions for future needs and receive a payment of just over $719,000.
What is the County doing now to deal with the challenges of the detention center population?
- Our Sheriff has reviewed the operational and staffing needs of the detention center and made operational changes to increase staffing.
- 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 Restorative Justice and Court Services Director position has been funded by the Commissioners and recruitment is under way. The County also received a grant to assist with paying for this position for the next two years.
- A family court and treatment court are being implemented by Judge Reynolds, 1st Judicial District.
- A jail assessment report was conducted in 2015. The assessment identifies factors that drive the prison population.
Will the Levy funds address jail diversion and mental health treatment?
Yes. The proposed levy includes an estimated $725,000 per year for Jail Diversion and risk reduction programs and services. Training, and criminal justice programs as identified in the Citizens Advisory Council (CAC) report to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) are proposed.
Mental Health, Pretrial, and early interventions resources will be provided.
These initiatives to be aimed at reducing the long term detention needs and to limit the use of expensive incarceration for only those that truly need it.
Paid for by Lewis and Clark County
Roger Baltz, Treasurer
316 North Park, Helena, MT 59623