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The present detention center is overcrowded and in some cases sub-standard. It lacks resources and facilities to ensure public safety. I have visited the site. Undersheriff Jason Grimmis called it deplorable, adding “it is crowded and unsafe not only for those incarcerated, but for the staff.” Detention center Captain Alan Hughes stated, “This whole place is dangerous.” Commissioner Hunthausen called it immoral. The center was evaluated by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Commission as well as a Citizens Advisory Committee and found lacking.

This is no longer the debate. Funds were appropriated by an election last year and are available to remodel the entirety of the present Law Enforcement three-floor building into additional space for inmates, increasing their care from roughly 80 in a detention center jail designed to house 54 to 154. This will allow all county inmates to be housed. This is not the issue.

Levy approval is the issue. Sheriff Leo Dutton’s analogy is on target. A company may build a modern aircraft, but it will sit on the runway if there are no pilots, no crews, no maintenance, no hangar, no fuel, no training, in short, with no additional operational costs nor funding for support staff, the aircraft will be useless. It holds true for remodeling of the Law Enforcement Center. If there is no support staff, no operational costs, no maintenance, the remodeling too is useless. It is “all or nothing.” The expansion depends on the approval of the levy. If it fails, the current detention center will remain overcrowded, sub-standard and presents safety issues to the public, the staff and the inmates. It will become worse. Lawsuits will follow. Costs will increase.

The County Commission in consultation with Law Enforcement, county judiciary and a Citizen’s Advisory Commission correctly identified the problems and solutions. They are proposing more than $2.5 million for additional operational staffing and $775,000 in technology upgrades.

The additional $750,000 funding “jail diversion and risk prevention” programs will provide risk assessment to evaluate inmates for mental health or addiction issues, as well as work with low-risk inmates to keep the out of jail while awaiting trial. Pre-trial services, mental health assistance, part of the operating levy planning, will address the root cause of crime – mental health, addiction, and lack of education. In short, giving hope to those without hope and to reduce recidivism. It is crucial to continue to reduce the root causes of crime for the safety of the community. The County Commission, Sheriff’s Office, Police Department and others should be commended and supported for their vision to positively address the challenges of overcrowding, technology and public safety.

Yes, there will be a tax increase. The levy will cost about $42.86 per year for a $100,000 home, or $3.57 per month, a small amount, little more than the price of a cup of coffee. For a $200,000 house it is roughly $85.72 per year, or $7.14 per month, less than a meal at a fast food restaurant.

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The upcoming levy is a bargain for all it offers to Lewis and Clark County and Helena. It is a small price to pay for reducing recidivism and for a safer and healthier community.

Please join me in support of the levy.

Thank you.

The Very Rev. Raymond D. Brown, now retired, is a 51-year resident of Helena, a former Dean of St. Peter’s Episcopal Cathedral, a 45-year member of Lewis and Clark County Search and Rescue, a Marine Corps veteran (Korea) and a former member of many local boards.

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