HELENA — Lewis & Clark County is getting ready to unveil its new jail in Helena, but first, they invited community members to tour the facility and spend the night.
The Sheriff’s Office invited community members for a sleepover to test out the new detention center.
"As everyone knows, we did the bond levy a while back and we got it approved for the building,” says Iven Cranmer, a Detention Center sergeant.
“Restructuring the building and the staffing and all that and, basically, what we are trying to do now is to get the public to see what we've done with that."
Eight people - including MTN News reporter Alexie Aguayo - were screened for COVID-19 before beginning the jail sleepover.
They were guided by detention officers and Sheriff Leo Dutton as they learned about the new features of the jail such as kiosks and tablets for inmates, as well as ADA-accessible cells.
Captain Alan Hughes joined in to help the volunteers navigate through life as an inmate.
"Really with nobody actually here that knew the philosophy and the reasons why we're doing some of the things we're doing in the jail. I figured, hah, might as well jump in, join in,” says Capt. Hughes. “At least if anybody has any questions, I can answer any questions."
One of the biggest questions answered was overcrowding in the jail. The current detention center has capacity for about 80 inmates but housed more than 100. With the new pods, the center can house up to 156 inmates.
The officers were most excited about the “Direct Supervision Pod.”
"Direct supervision puts the officer inside the unit with the inmates 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” says Claire Swain, a Detention sergeant. “They manage a unit by waking and talking. It's not something where you just go look through the room and see if somebody is doing okay, if they're awake. That type of thing."
"It will eventually have vending machines, and there, we will have extra things [the inmates] can work towards. They have to be at their best behavior once they earn their way in there," says Sgt. Cranmer.
Participants felt the experience was an educational one.
"It was eye-opening, and it just gives you a whole new perspective on the criminal justice system," says Nanette Gilbertson.
"You can take a look, you can walk from the outside, look in and take a tour, but it's a lot different when you're sitting in there and the door closes and the lights go out," says Mark Piskolich, a former federal probation officer.
"I think Lewis & Clark County has improved the criminal justice system, significantly," says Rick Hays.
The one thing that all the officers and participants agreed on was that this bond, the public voted on, did not go to waste.
Lewis & Clark County voters approved the $6.5 million dollar bond in 2016. Lewis & Clark County will have the first multi-level detention center in Montana. They hope to be fully operational within the next few weeks.