Written by Vicki Viall
The Feb. 4 meeting of the Roosevelt County Commissioners’ was largely consumed by a power point presentation by Sheriff Freedom Crawford and Dennis Kimme, president of Kimme and Associates, of Champaign, Ill.
With money the sheriff’s department had set aside, a feasibility study was conducted. It found that a new jail is definitely needed. After the study was completed, Kimme and Associates were hired in May/June of last year. They looked at the crime rate and the number of “guests” currently residing in the facility and then focused 20 years down the road.
The one theme that seems to be really driving this issue is the Bakken oil field. Before the Bakken oil field development, Roosevelt County had very little crime — one of the lowest rates in the state, in fact. Almost from the moment that the Bakken oil field development arrived, the crime rate began to climb ... drastically.
For example, prior to Bakken boom, in 2008, Roosevelt County has 90 simple assaults. In 2012, that rate had jumped to 173.
The criminals the sheriff’s department now sees typically are more hardened, seasoned and have multiple felonies on their records. Because of their “experience,” they are what everyone knows as “jail house lawyers.”
They, as a group, began inundating the American Civil Liberties Union with complaints about the conditions in the Roosevelt County Jail. It then followed that the American Civil Liberties Union began inundating the sheriff’s department with letters and threats of lawsuits.
At that point, Crawford requested a peer review of the jail by other law enforcement personnel. The results were not pretty. By Montana standards, the Roosevelt County Jail is far below standards and is an unsafe environment for all.
In actuality, the cells are made for one inmate. They currently house four. The facility is a 34-bed facility that has been made into a 17-bed facility to comply. To truly comply with standards, the current facility should hold 11 beds.
Jails must have fire suppressant systems. The current jail does not and, therefore, violates many standards and codes.
Another issue is that the current jail affords no method or means of separating violent from non-violent offenders.
The open-barred doors are also a safety hazard. In the event of a fire, they will not hinder a smoke hazard. Smoke kills more people than actual fires do.
For a guard to approach an open-barred door opens them to being attacked by an inmate.
Ideally, a jail door will be opened by remote release. The doors that are currently in use are not capable of that.
The current facility has no indoor exercise facility. Other jails have lost lawsuits just on that one issue. The cost of the jail addition and remodeling of the existing facility into office spaces will cost $9,800,000 and up depending on actual construction costs, interest rates at the time of building and length of time to construct.
It is anticipated that if construction begins in August, it would be completed about April of next year — just on the new construction. If all goes well, the entire project should be completed by April 2017.
Another issue to be taken into account would be the size of the facility built. Plans are made for a 40-bed facility with expansion available for another 20 beds. When recently constructed facilities were designed, they were not built with that in mind. They are now filled to capacity.
In the event of empty beds in the new facility, other counties would be able to rent beds. This provides income that will help the facility pay for itself.
Crawford asked the commissioners to include the jail addition on their agenda now. The commissioners voted to hire Dorsey Whitney, LLC Bonding Company. The company deals only with government bonds and will assist the preparation for the addition of the bond on the ballot for voters decision in the upcoming election.
In the near future, Crawford will be conducting presentations groups and organizations similar to the one presented to the commissioners. It is strongly advised that every voter attend one of these presentations to become informed on the need for a jail addition.
Prior to that, the commissioners approved the acceptance of a bid for $1,914.07 to purchase a new computer for the Maintenance Department. Also approved was the purchase for $2,126 of a desk for the County Fair Committee.
In new business, the hiring of a new assistant coroner (Steven Kirkegard) was approved as well.
The presentation by Sheriff Crawford began with the history of the current jail. It was originally built sometime around 1918 and then pushed back on the property to its current location. The jail has no sprinklers. Metal if rusting in numerous places. The open bar door designs present numerous safety issues for inmates and jailers. Those are not, however, the only safety concerns for inmates and staff.