It’s a possibility being discussed as Carbon County looks for a more affordable place to house its inmates and Park County officials eye the potential extra cash. Perhaps as many as a half-dozen Montana inmates would be added to the Cody jail’s daily population, while Park County’s budget could get a more than $100,000 boost.
“It’s doable,” Park County Sheriff Scott Steward said at a commission meeting last week.
The sheriff thinks he can offer Carbon County a competitive rate while still leaving some room for profit for the county.
The discussions appear to be an indirect result of crime in the Billings area. Carbon County lacks a jail of its own and currently takes its arrestees and convicts to the Yellowstone County, Mont., Detention Facility in Billings.
However, in late July, Yellowstone County raised the rate for out-of-county prisoners from $85 to $100 per day due to overcrowding. The jail is over its capacity, and Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder believes a new 100-bed wing is needed for female inmates.
For Carbon County, the rate hike meant budgeting an extra $35,000 for prisoner boarding (for a total of $255,000 this fiscal year).
“The price is getting kind of tough on our taxpayers,” said John Grewell, the presiding officer of the Carbon County Commission, in a Monday interview. “We’re looking at other options that will be cheaper for us.”
Carbon County officials have spoken with administrators at the Gallatin County Detention Center (in Bozeman, Mont.), the private Two Rivers Detention Facility (in Hardin, Mont.) and Park County.
“We’re looking at several options; Cody’s just one of them,” Grewell said.
As for where the Carbon County Commission currently stands in the decision-making process, “We’re waiting on a price for Park County,” Grewell said.
Carbon County officials first reached out in August.
Park County Commissioner Loren Grosskopf said at the Nov. 4 meeting — in the county’s first public mention of the topic — that Carbon County probably was wondering whether they were going to hear back.
Last month, officials at the Two Rivers Detention Facility offered Carbon County a rate of $76 a day that would include transporting prisoners to Red Lodge for court dates, commission minutes say.
Steward said he thinks Park County could offer a rate of somewhere between $60 and $65, not including transportation.
The Park County jail has 106 beds, and county statistics show the facility averaged around 40 inmates a day between January and June. Carbon County has said they average four or five inmates a day, Steward said.
“We obviously have the room to do it,” he said.
The sheriff does have some questions about how a cross-state agreement would work — including whose insurance would defend the county if a Carbon County inmate alleged their civil rights had been violated in Park County; Steward noted certain inmates frequently file such complaints.
The sheriff also said he wouldn’t be interested in taking on the Montana charges if it means having to add another jailer. A couple of Park County commissioners also were concerned that Carbon County inmates would be released in Cody after serving their Montana jail time.
Steward joked that Park County should actually follow Carbon County’s lead by taking its $1.5 million jail budget and finding another facility to house its inmates — “and we save $1 million, plus a lot of headache.”
Both counties’ commissioners say they expect a lot of consultation with their county attorneys before signing an agreement. Grosskopf said he would work with Steward to provide a response to Carbon County.