Mar 10, 2015

Does Park County need the state's permission to take Montana inmates?

An obscure Wyoming law is holding up a possible deal that would have Carbon County, Mont., inmates held in the Park County Detention Center.

There’s no jail in Carbon County, so officials there need someplace else to lock-up their defendants who can’t make bail while awaiting trial or who are sentenced to jail time.

The Park County Detention Center is housed in this building
Carbon County officials have been sending their inmates to the Yellowstone County, Mont., Detention Facility in Billings, but they began looking elsewhere after Billings’ rate jumped to $100 per inmate a day.

Park County Sheriff Scott Steward has said the county’s detention center can house Carbon County’s defendants for $60 to $65 a day and still make money. With an average of a half-dozen inmates a day from Red Lodge, Bridger, Fromberg and other Carbon County locales, it could mean six figures of revenue for Park County.

But an unclear section of state law is complicating a possible deal.

The law says, in part, that “Prisoners or inmates of out-of-state, nonfederal jurisdictions shall not be incarcerated in any facility operated by a local government entity under this article without the consent of the majority of the five elected officials of this state.”

That would seem to suggest Park County needs the approval of at least three of the statewide officials (governor, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor and superintendent of public instruction) to go forward, but on the other hand, the law is under a chapter specific to privately run correctional facilities.

“Everybody agrees that whole law is just weird,” said Steward of the mix of legal language at the commission’s March 3 meeting.

Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric has requested a legal opinion from Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael as to whether the law applies to Park County taking on Carbon County’s inmates.

“If we’re going to be doing it, we want to be doing it legally,” Skoric said in an interview.

Michael’s determination is expected in coming weeks.

Regardless of what happens with Park County’s jail, people convicted of the most serious crimes and sentenced to prison time in Carbon County will continue to serve those sentences in Montana’s corrections system.


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