Butte police push for jail overcrowding solutions


Butte police push for jail overcrowding solutions

BUTTE, Mont. - In a recent report by the New York Times, more than 130 police leaders, prosecutors, and attorneys generals want to reduce the country's incarceration rate.

Wednesday, Butte-Silver Bow law enforcement officials spoke out about the overcrowding at their detention center.

"We are housing inmates that have been there over a year waiting to be sentenced," said Undersheriff George Skuletich. "So those inmates are tying up a lot of beds for us, and they're there for a long period of time."

According to World Prison Brief, the 2013 total prison population for the United States is the second highest in the world.

The total bed capacity at the Butte-Silver Bow detention center is around 85. Right now, there are about 93 inmates being housed there.

Skuletich explained why they're over capacity. "It's due to people waiting to be sentenced, the prison overcrowding situation, they haven't put any new beds in the prison for quite a while, and we just have been arresting more people and that just happens periodically."

He added that the beds in the booking area aren't considered full-time beds, but when the jail is already full and more inmates come in, they have to use what's available.

"When we're this full we have to use those as normal cells," said Butte detention officer Connor Foley. "There's no water in them, so we have to remove the inmates every time they have to use the bathroom and things like that."

They said the overcrowding causes problems for everyone at the jail.

"When it gets full, tensions run high with the inmates. There just tends to be more issues," said Foley.

"It makes going into the exercise yard more difficult, going to special programs such as AA, religious type programming that we have for them, it makes that more difficult too. Overcrowding affects the overall operation of the jail," Skuletich said.

Skuletich said the Butte-Silver Bow detention center uses a book and release system for inmates arrested on minor misdemeanor charges in order to help with overcrowding.

He added that alternative sentencing techniques being discussed in the legislature could help with both prison and jail overcrowding across the country.

Jail overcrowding is a problem in other Montana towns as well.

In the Flathead, county leaders are looking to add on to the current facility after their plans to turn a former Walmart building into the new county jail fell through.

Both Missoula and Bozeman's detention centers are currently under capacity, but officials said the number of inmates change daily.

The more than 130 prominent law enforcement officials are set to meet with President Barack Obama on Thursday.

The New York Times report said they are pushing for alternatives to arrests, reducing the number of criminal laws and ending mandatory minimum prison sentences.

The law enforcement leaders said reducing incarceration will improve public safety because people who need treatment for drug and alcohol problems or mental health issues will be more likely to improve and reintegrate into society if they receive consistent care, which few jails or prisons offer.

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