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Full House: Life inside the Lewis and Clark County Detention Center

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Your arrival at the Lewis and Clark County detention center might begin in the back seat of a patrol car, your hands cuffed behind your back.

Florescent lighting and gray concrete walls in the garage of the Law Enforcement Center provide the ambiance for what comes next.

The staff in the detention center’s control room will dispatch an elevator to take you and the arresting officer up to the second floor for booking. The elevator door opens with soft clicking sounds.

Three paces beyond it is a steel door with a large window so detention staff can see who is arriving.

A harsh metallic buzz and the ring of a metal lock being automatically snapped open from the control room precedes the opening of the door. The door closes with a bang. Air inside the detention center smells clean and impersonal, devoid of the tangy dust and sweetness of juniper and pine carried on the breeze of an August morning.

Sixteen paces away, down a hallway lined by holding cells and other rooms behind closed doors, a detention officer stands with hands clasped in front of him. He waits.

He will search you once before the handcuffs are released from your wrists and then search you again. Your fingerprints are recorded electronically. The black-and-white gauge on a gray steel cell door will note your height for your booking photo.

You will sit on a wooden bench bolted to the concrete block wall near the booking counter and surrender your shoes. A detention officer will take them and return with the orange shirt, pants, socks and plastic sandals that inmates wear.

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The detention center opened in 1985 with beds for 54 inmates. In recent years, more beds were welded in place to accommodate 80. Still, 100 or more people might be held there on any given day, and you could find yourself sleeping on the floor instead of in a cell.

This is where you will live for 120 days, on average, unless you can afford to bond out. Close quarters. Cramped conditions. Privacy, like freedom, is forfeited.

In November, the county will ask voters for funds to convert all three floors of the Law Enforcement Center into additional detention space. A companion ballot measure will ask voters for funds to pay for operating costs and a variety of programs, such as mental health and chemical dependency services and screening to determine which inmates require incarceration pending trial. If both ballot measures are approved, the owner of a home with a market value of $200,000 would see a tax increase of about $100 annually for 15 years. 

These requests come after voters in 2015 overwhelmingly rejected a bond to construct a 244-bed facility that would have also included space for the sheriff's office, along with a companion levy that would have funded the facility's operation, maintenance and programs for inmates. While county officials argued the plan was the best way to address overcrowding at the jail, opponents said it would have cost taxpayers too much and provided more space than needed.


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