Jail Gets Miles City Inmates
Meier Expects About 10 Custer County Prisoners Here On Average
BY SAMAR FAY COURIER EDITOR
Published: Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012
The Valley County jail accepted six prisoners from the Miles City detention center on Monday, the first to arrive under a contract to board here. Sheriff Glen Meier said he expects to see an average population of 10 Custer County inmates.
“I’m glad we’re able to do this,” Meier said. “We were full for a while and we didn’t want to rent to others but we’re stabilized now. And Custer County is a neighbor in a way.”
The five men and one woman were accompanied by four Custer County officers. The transition went smoothly, the prisoners’ paperwork had been sent in advance, and they changed from bright green Custer County garb to black and white striped Valley County uniforms before going to their new cells.
“To be able to work with Glen to do this has really been nice,” said Custer County Sheriff Tony Harbaugh, a tall man with a powerful, deep voice. “Valley County has gone out of its way to make this work for us and we really appreciate that.”
The Custer County commissioners and Harbaugh made the decision to abandon their jail to avoid a lawsuit threatened by the American Civil Liberties Union, which sent them two letters in August alleging that conditions in the jail amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. They were given until Oct. 8 to move their prisoners out, although they will maintain a 72-hour holding facility.
In many ways the situation at the Miles City jail resembles the problems at the old Valley County jail. Although part of the Miles City jail is 108 years old, the newer part was built below ground in 1975, according to an Associated Press story in early September. Both basement jails were severely criticized for lacking ventilation, having no prisoner access to fresh air, outside exercise or natural light, and poor fire safety. In addition, the ACLU charged that Miles City had extensive mold, unclean living areas, dirty clothing and bedding and inadequate medical services, the AP story said.
“It’s the same thing we were looking at with our jail,” Meier said. “It’s the same in many ways as ours was. It’s a huge blow for them. They had 30 days to find some place.”
Billings’ facilities are closer but already overcrowded, Meier said. Glendive has a correctional facility, but it’s also overcrowded. Townsend and Bozeman were in the running, but Glasgow was the choice.
“Valley County was just ahead of the curve, setting down and dealing with the situation ahead of time,” Harbaugh said.
The new $3 million, 32-bed Valley County jail opened in April 2011. It frequently houses prisoners from neighboring counties in northeast Montana and the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap reservations.
The amount that Custer County will pay to board their prisoners here is not firm yet, Meier said. The contract is still being negotiated. They will get a break on a price for a guaranteed eight prisoners, whether they actually have that many or not. For more people, they will pay the full price of $60 per day.
“It’s a new thing we’re stepping into,” Meier said. “It’s a great thing for Valley County for income to run our jail but it’s costly for Custer County.”
An article in the Sept. 20 issue of the Miles City Star quoted an estimated cost of $20,000 a month to board their prisoners. The article said the Custer County commissioners were proceeding urgently with plans for a new detention center and justice center, using Stevenson Design, the same Miles City firm that designed the Valley County jail.
Funding their new jail may be difficult, Harbaugh said. The county receives little PILT money (payment in lieu of taxes) and gets no coal and gas revenue. He said if the Tongue River railroad actually happens, the Otter Creek coal mines could develop and produce revenue for the county.
Meier said Valley County would help out when they can by transporting prisoners from Miles City, which is nearly 200 miles from Glasgow. Until they get started, officials won’t know how many trips they need to make each week or on what days.
On regular visiting days, prisoners will be able to communicate with their families using Skype on computers set up in both jails.
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