Flathead County wants to upgrade and expand its jail.
The jail is overcrowded and when that happens, workers have to release or not take in certain offenders.
We found 84 inmates on the jail roster Wednesday. The jail was built to hold 63. The average number of inmates ranges from 80 to 92. When it hits 92, the problems kick in. Some misdemeanor offenders are either let go or wait to be booked or serve their time.
"There are not more fixes other than an expansion,” said Flathead County Detention Center Commander Bill Smith.
Built back in 1987, Smith says officials planned to update the detention center 15 years later, but things changed.
"For various reasons it hasn't occurred. Most recently the recession and economic challenges that our citizens face," said Smith.
On a holiday weekend, like Labor Day coming up, the jail reaches its capacity at 92. When it gets that high, it must restrict certain types of inmates and offenders from being lodged so it can house those with more violent crimes.
"It does sometimes place the system in a difficult decision, to have to release a defendant that we otherwise would have kept in the facility if we had available space," Smith said.
When numbers are this high at the jail, conditions can decrease for inmates and make things more difficult for officers on watch.
We walked through a few of the cell blocks to see just how close the quarters are for inmates. Extra temporary beds were brought into rooms so the jail could house more inmates. It made the cells feel more cramped with inmates sleeping just a few feet away from each other.
"Increased inmate tension, increased opportunities for contraband and concealing contraband," said Smith.
For now, Smith will have to continue to make difficult decisions about releasing or not taking inmates in when numbers are high. But he's hopeful that a solution will come in the near future.
"I do feel that there is a need for an expansion so that we can better serve our community," Smith said.