Today it was reported that Ortega was let out of the Missoula County jail.
“I spent a few minutes checking out the Missoula County Inmate Information Portal where I learned that despite driving under the influence, careless driving, a felony probation violation and the criminal contempt charge, Ortega was released from jail just hours after flipping out on the judge.”
What the hell is going on here?
In Missoula we continually hear about problems with our jail, overcrowding at the jail, and tons of other problems that stem from that facility and the culture we’ve created here in the Garden City.
Why is the jail full?
A total of 65.5% of Missoulians agreed to build the damn thing back in 1996 with the promise that it’d have more than enough beds, and that it’d actually earn money!
When it opened in 1999 the $17.1 million facility took over for the 86-bed unit on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex.
We’re still paying that jail bond off, with a yearly obligation of $1.25 million, meaning it’s $18 a year on your property taxes.
It was clear Missoula had problems as early as 2008 when a $16 million bond measure was floated to build a $23.5 million emergency operations building next to the jail.
That bond vote failed, getting just 49% of the vote.
Since then Missoula has had to pay out $250,000 renovating the jail, another $565,000 in liability payments for a 2009 alcohol withdrawal death, another $255,039 for the lawyers on that case, and then in 2011 another $286,294 because a woman killed herself in the jail.
Boy, so much for making us money, huh?
So what happened?
Thankfully we commissioned a study last April for $85,000 to determine what happened.
It took 14 months, but the commission produced a 115-page report telling us the state of things.
So…what does this $85,000 report tell us?
Considering that none of the local newspapers or TV stations have told us, I’ll take it upon myself to wade through that report and tell you much of what it says.
First of all, let’s take a look at the makeup of the jail and prison system in Montana:
That’s where many in the jails are waiting to go, either when something opens up or when they get done with their trial.
We know that nationally, 50% of our prison inmates are in for drug-related crime and just 7% of our national prison population is made up of violent offenders.
- We know that the population of low-risk offenders in Montana rose by 133% from 1998 to 2013.
- In Montana 24% of our jail population is women, which is nearly twice the national average of 13%.
- Native Americans make up 13% of Montana’s female jail population and 9% of the male population.
- Nearly 50% of the people in Montana jails are between the ages of 18 and 30.
We know that the Top 9 reasons people go to jail in Montana are as follows:
- DUI (9.4%)
- Criminal Contempt (5.1%)
- Probation Violations (5%)
- Partner or Family Member Assault (3.7%)
- Driving While License is Revoked (3.6%)
- Disorderly Conduct (3.6%)
- Revocation of Deferred or Suspended Sentence (3.1%)
- Larceny/Theft (2.9%)
- Obstructing a Peace Officer (2.6%)
Those nine crimes come make up 39% of the infractions that people are in our jails for.
We know that in Missoula County 83% of prisoners report dissatisfaction with their medical care, the worst in the state (the average is 43%).
- Missoula County pays $806,039 a year to Correctional Health Providers for that care.
- When that contractor is unable to provide services, Missoula goes to outside healthcare in the community.
- This outside care for Missoula County jail inmates costs $108,969 a year and has gone up in cost by 22% since 2011.
Missoula jail inmates report a 66% dissatisfaction rate with mental health care, more than double the state average of 30%.
Here in Missoula we have 115 full-time jail workers, which includes 84 detention officers.
- Turnover is about 25% to 30% each year at the Missoula County jail and it costs $11.6 million a year to run the place.
- That means you pay $195.36 a year on your property taxes to fund the jail’s yearly operations.
Missoula expects it’ll need a new 60-bed unit if the city/county population continues to grow.
- This will cost $5 million with an additional cost of $2.3 million every year to staff and operate.
Currently the Missoula County jail can hold 370 adults and 24 juveniles.
- Because that’s such a large amount of available bed space, the Missoula County jail contracts with the Montana Department of Corrections to fill 146 of those beds.
- The contract to do this runs until 2029 so even if the county wanted to free up space, it could not.
Yes, the state is stretched just as thin as the counties are.
The jail cooks 1,100 meals a day.
In 2015 the Missoula County jail saw 4,223 individuals come through its doors a total of 5,997 times.
Yes, that means that 1,774 times that someone came into the jail, they’d been there before.
Inmate bookings have increased 31% over the past decade.
- We know that 75% of the Missoula County jail population are non-violent offenders.
- 72% of them are men and 28% are women.
The average stay for a Missoula County jail inmate has gone up by 54% over the past decade.
- In 2015 most inmates were in the jail for 12 days, and the report tells us that this is the main reason for overcrowding.
- Since 2007 inmates have stayed in jail 50% longer. Back then it was about 7 days then in 2009 it was 9 days. It really shot up in 2012, with 11 days and then to nearly 15 in 2014.
Court cases have gone up by 30% over the past decade in Missoula County.
All that took me up to about page 38 of the report.
I didn’t want to read anymore. Not only is it depressing, it’s boring too.
For the next 70 or so pages we get a lot on treatment and courts. To me it seems the courts and the legislators are mainly to blame.
Early on in the report we’re told some of the main reasons that jails are overcrowded in Montana. It comes to us from a 2005 study by the Montana Board of Crime Control.
They said that we have problems with:
- An inadequate public defender system
- Little use of pretrial release
- Lack of risk and needs assessment tools
- Few instances of pre-sentence investigations
- Little in the way of community-based interventions
- No comprehensive statewide re-entry planning
The main suggestion of the study was to create a committee to study the problem more.
We’ve been doing that for years now, and I don’t think that will change.
So let’s get another $85,000 of the taxpayer money together and do just that.
Perhaps we’ll finally get an answer, and maybe some officials willing to act on it.