Helena News

Jul 16, 2012 8:03 PM by Melissa Anderson - MTN

Special needs inmates' care presents challenges in Lewis and Clark County jail

HELENA - With an average count of about 70 inmates a day in the Lewis and Clark County Detention Center, law enforcement officials have learned to make do, but some say that safety issues are reaching a critical point. While jail isn't a good place for people in crisis, it's often where they end up.

Even with the recent doubling up of bunks in the jail cells, overcrowding continues to be a problem when it comes to people with special needs.

Detention Center Captain Dave Fradette said, "We're very limited on where we can put these people. We don't have what you would call an isolation cell. We have one that's on the intake floor of the booking area. And a lot of times we already have one person in there."

Authorities agree that jail isn't a place for somebody who may have mental health issues, medical problems, or behavioral issues, but if they've committed a serious crime, they often end up incarcerated.

"Sometimes...you get people in here that may not have told us that they have any mental issues, and maybe they are not on any medication, and they need to have that, so that's where the help comes in," Fradette said.

The detention center hasn't had any deaths in the jail to report in a couple of decades, but shortly after the new jail was built in the mid-1980s, three inmates killed themselves, all about 90 days apart.

Problems with airflow grates in the jail cells were fixed, but this hasn't stopped the attempts.

Fradette observed, "Just when you think you have everything covered, you know, just the way human thinking is, somebody will come up with something that you never thought of before."

Fradette says If detention officers find out that those incarcerated are thinking about harming themselves, they immediately call a mental health professional for an evaluation.

"Ultimately it's up to the court to decide whether somebody needs to be committed to the Montana State Hospital or not," said Fradette.

In the meantime, Fradette says they have no choice but to continue to shuffle people around based upon their needs, adding, "We never really seem like we're gaining anything by doing that. And it's just because we're overcrowded."

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