County Sheriff again considers accepting inmates from Montana

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With the Park County Detention Center no longer packed with inmates, county officials are again entertaining the idea of possibly housing inmates from Carbon County, Montana.

“It’s something we can start looking at for revenue, I think,” Park County Sheriff Scott Steward told commissioners at an Aug. 7 meeting.

Carbon County — which encompasses Red Lodge, Bridger, Joliet, Fromberg, Belfry and several other small communities in southern Montana — does not have a jail, and it’s been looking for a more affordable place to house its inmates for years. Carbon County commissioners approached their Park County counterparts with the request back in 2014, but Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael advised Park County that, under state law, it could not accept out-of-state prisoners. Wyoming legislators changed that law last year, opening the door to Montana inmates. At that point, however, the Cody jail was running full.

“I wouldn’t even take one [person from Carbon County] at this point,” Steward said in early 2017, as the population in the 106-bed facility spiked to a high of 99 inmates. Thanks to a busy first part of the year, the Park County Detention Center was the fullest it’s ever been in 2017, hosting an average of 72 inmates. That broke the jail’s prior high-water mark of 68 inmates, set in 2016, and continued an upward trend.

Since that time, however, the inmate population has dropped back down. Over the past year, sheriff’s records show the jail has been averaging right around 59 inmates — in line with the 10-year average. That’s why Steward is again willing to consider renting out space in the detention center to Carbon County, Montana.

“I think we can sit down and work something out on that — right now, anyway,” he said at the Park County Commission’s Aug. 7 meeting.

Steward indicated the county might need to be particular about which inmates it accepts — such as perhaps not taking sex offenders or other inmates who have to be kept out of the general population.

“We’d have to review their classification — and there’s just some we wouldn’t be able to take at certain times,” the sheriff said.

He indicated Park County might also need to include contingencies for moving out Carbon County inmates if the jail starts filling up again. Steward said the jail normally sees gradual, rather than sudden, increases and generally gets fuller on weekends. However, bookings can also be unpredictable: from mid-morning on Aug. 9 to the early morning hours of Aug. 10 — a roughly 16-hour span — officers with the Powell and Cody police departments and the sheriff’s office arrested 10 people. That temporarily bumped the population up to 69.

As of Monday afternoon, the jail was back down to a total of 59 people.

Carbon County commissioners have indicated they might want space for six to 12 inmates, said Park County Commission Chairman Loren Grosskopf.

“Twelve, I would say, would be a push for us,” Steward said.

“You just got to leave room for yourself,” agreed Commissioner Jake Fulkerson.

Beyond determining how many and which inmates that the Cody jail could take, Park County leaders also need to determine what rate they would charge Carbon County. Steward mentioned a possible fee of $65 per day, which, for six inmates, would mean roughly $140,000 in revenue over the course of the year. The sheriff has said that he would not incur many costs to handle the extra inmates.

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