Crowded prison main topic during public safety discussion | Featured story

BILLINGS, Mont. — An overcrowded prison, a need for more mental health help and rehabilitation centers took center stage when the governor met with the Billings police chief and sheriff about soaring death rates crime in Billings and Yellowstone county.

Much of the discussion revolved around the inmates of the Yellowstone County Jail, which is overcapacity of about 100 prisoners, and everyone at the table agreed, it’s taking too long to get them through through the judicial system.

Some people in law enforcement think the overcrowding in the Yellowstone County Detention Center is as big a problem as the crimes that land people in jail. That’s why much of Friday’s discussion with the governor focused on securing mental health and rehabilitation resources.

The city and county believe this may prevent them from becoming repeat offenders and possibly prevent them from going to jail altogether.

Sheriff’s office staff said about 75% of those locked up needed mental health resources.

A drug court judge told me there were other options in place before a jail sentence was ordered, but for serious offenders, there just isn’t room.

“We’ve been following this very closely, not just YSC, it’s really statewide and countywide, we’ve seen a flood of drugs in our communities, and most of the crime we’ve seen is of related drug,” Governor Gianforte said.

“We try therapeutic interventions, we try community service, we try many behavior modifications that work very well,” Judge Mary Jane Knisley said.

And we’ve told you before, there’s always a back-up in the public defender’s office, which forces inmates to stay longer in jail because their case takes longer to process.

Rimrock staff also said they wanted to help more people in rehab, but were limited by a federal rule limiting the number of people they could take in.

Jessica C. Bell