The Missoula County Jail came up number one twice in the report released last week by the ACLU, but first in this case was the last place they wanted to be.

The report includes two surveys of inmates which names the Missoula County Detention Center as the worst in the state in two categories, adequacy of medical care and adequacy of mental health services.

At a Wednesday morning press conference inside the new offices of the Missoula County Sheriff's Department, three officials addressed the report. Sheriff T.J. McDermott said he appreciated the ACLU's report, in that it provides an opportunity to improve and explore new options in administrating the detention center.

"I think this is an opportunity for us to rethink the role of the detention center, and it defines the need for us to be proactive in seeking for alternatives for incarcerations for non-violent, non-dangerous offenders, those awaiting trial, but especially those who have mental illnesses that find themselves in our detention center," McDermott said. "One thing that's clear is that we need to examine the practices of our facility."

Undersheriff Jason Johnson questioned the methodology of the ACLU report, in that it only questioned 18 inmates at the Missoula County Jail, out of a total of over 300 statewide.

Jason Johnson

Johnson said the jail is now 15 years old, a number which matches the estimate made by those who proposed the jail of the time it would take to reach capacity, as it now has. He also addressed the issues of fresh air, staff turnover and the stress inherent in working with inmates on a daily basis.

Johnson also addressed the staggering costs associated with running the jail, including a contact for medical services with Correctional Health Partners for $782,000 per year, $33,265 for mental health services, $27,000 for dental services, $79,477 for prescription drug services, $49,366 for outside care, in addition to the recently completed outdoor recreation area for women, mandated by an ACLU lawsuit, at a cost of $378,000, with an annual budget of $325,000. These numbers do not include food services, staff salaries and benefits.

When asked about the potential of building a newer, bigger jail, McDermott said he rejected such an idea.

"I fully support alternatives to incarceration," McDermott said. "Specifically, we need to hep those folks who are mentally ill in our facility. They are here for several reasons, including court orders, high bail amounts and folks who are incercerated pre-trial and who unable to post a bond."

Press Conference Q&A

McDermott, Johnson and jail administrator Jason Kowalski all agreed that the jail has problems, but that the staff and all county administrators are working to solve them.

Legal Director for the Montana ACLU, Jim Taylor, said he was particularly pleased to hear Sheriff McDermott speak about alternatives to incarceration. He said jails all over the state are over capacity and that no matter how big the jails are built, they will be soon filled to capacity.

"We must find ways to address the reasons why people get trouble with the law," Taylor said. "If we don't, the problem will never be solved."

The bond issue to build the jail 15 years ago was put before the voters three times before it was passed.