Lake County jail review released - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Lake County jail review released

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POLSON - Lake County authorities may have some new ideas on how to deal with its long-standing problems with an aging, and overcrowded jail thanks to a new analysis of the facility and its operations. 

Lake County Sheriff Don Bell was sworn into office in 2014 and began his duties in 2015.

"I swore in that I would do this job with fidelity and I believe part of my job is to keep the people who are being mean, breaking the law, and that are dangerous to the community, incarcerated," Sheriff Bell said.

Sheriff Bell would like to keep offenders separate from the public but the county has 1,600 unserved felony warrants as well as more than 800 offenders who are waiting to serve time in the county's jail.

Part of the problem according to Sheriff Bell is that the current jail located in the lower level of the Lake County Courthouse is too small with only 46 beds -- something the sheriff says is a public safety issue.

"Forty-six is what we're set at. It makes it difficult. There's a reason why a judge signed a warrant that's that big of bond on that person," Sheriff Bell said. "That person must have done something pretty critical, violent or major someplace and we just don't have room so it weighs on my mind all the time."

Lake County District Court Judge Deborah Christopher shares Sheriff Bell's frustration.

"How we get the work done effects the people I care about in a place that I love doing something that is my job, for the public that is out there. When we can't get that done effectively than we're not serving the people that we represent," Judge Christopher said.

She says the county's entire justice system is in crisis management due to budget restrictions and that the problem is deeper than just a lack of beds in the jail.

"Our ability to conduct trials to respond to people's needs in civil cases where they need to have trials is completely compromised by inadequate space, old structures and lack of electronic equipment," Judge Christopher said.

On a quest to find the right solution, Sheriff Bell had an assessment done of the current jail at no cost to the county through the National Institute of Corrections.

"It's a very preliminary study. The next step is a comprehensive needs assessment study looking at the population, looking at alternatives to incarceration. Looking at how many beds are needed," justice facility planner Mark Goldman said.

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