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An inmate sleeps on the floor of the jail library, right, as another is seen by a judge via teleconference, top center. Due the high number of inmates inside the detention center, the library acts as an overflow area where inmates sleep on padded mats, while fellow inmates wait their turn to speak with the judge. 

Lewis and Clark County voters are supporting a bond to increase the capacity of the jail but opposing an adjoining levy to pay for its operation. 

As of 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, the bond was passing by a vote of 15,876-15,782 with all 37 precincts partially reporting. 

The levy was failing by a vote of 18,059-13,702. 

No precincts were fully reported at that time. 

County and law enforcement officials have said the detention center is in a crisis.

The county commission wants both ballot issues to pass before moving ahead with its plans to remodel the building.

If the two ballot issues win voter approval, the tax bill on a home valued at $200,000 would increase by nearly $100 per year and by nearly $50 for a home valued at $100,000.

While it opened in 1985 with beds for 54 inmates, additional beds were welded in place to accommodate 80. Still, 100 or more people are typically held there each day with the in-house overflow sleeping on the floor instead of in a cell.

As of Election Day, the jail held 77 inmates. All but four were in for felony crimes. 

Those who aren’t held here are incarcerated at contract jails in other counties. On Tuesday, another 31 inmates were housed elsewhere. 

The safety of inmates and detention staff has raised concerns, as has the potential liability to the county because of jail conditions.

This plan would provide space for about 160 beds and calls for a $6.5 million renovation of the building. The costs would be spread over 15 years. 

Voters have rejected ballot issues in recent years that would have increased their property taxes. Ballot issues to fund a new jail and to improve the county’s fairgrounds failed, as did a $70 million bond issue for school renovation and construction.

The county had proposed a nearly $42 million, 20-year bond issue in 2015 to construct a facility intended to meet detention needs for 30 years.

A second ballot issue would have generated nearly $5.3 million when fully implemented, which was anticipated in 2025, for operations, maintenance and inmate and community needs aimed at reducing overcrowding, crime and recidivism.

Both ballot issues overwhelmingly failed.

In the wake of that defeat, county officials looked at an array of options and eventually settled on remodeling all three floors of the Law Enforcement Center for detention space. Currently, the second floor of the building houses inmates.

Included in the levy is also money for the inmate programming that had been part of the 2015 ballot issue. Authorities have said that without inmate programming, the detention center would soon be overcrowded again.

Both the cost to renovate the building and the levy for detention center operations and inmate programming would conclude in 15 years. It’s uncertain whether voters would be asked to renew the operation, maintenance and programming levy or whether the facility would no longer be usable because of advances in detention facility standards.


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