Aug 4, 2015

No Montana inmates allowed at county jail, attorney general says

A Park County plan to house a few Montana inmates and earn some extra money has been nixed by the Wyoming Attorney General.

Carbon County, Montana, doesn't have a jail and, after the jail in Billings raised its rates, has been looking for a more affordable place to house its inmates. Park County Sheriff Scott Steward thought he could offer Carbon County a good deal and bring in some additional revenue for Park County.

The Park County Law Enforcement Center in Cody holds the county jail. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker
The two counties had been discussing the idea since August 2014, but Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael recently determined that state law doesn’t give counties the legal authority to take out-of-state inmates.

“There’s nothing (in the law) that prohibits it, but there’s nothing that says, ‘You can do it,’” Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric explained last week.

Skoric had asked for the attorney general’s opinion. There’s a section of state law that says correctional facilities can accept out-of-state inmates if at least three of the state’s five elected officials agree, but Michael said that law doesn’t apply to a county-owned jail.

“We wanted to proceed with caution — particularly when you’re dealing with housing inmates — and I think we did that,” Skoric said. “And we have our answer and it is what it is.”

The inmates would have been people serving jail sentences on misdemeanor charges or awaiting trial on alleged criminal activity in Red Lodge, Bridger, Joliet and other parts of Carbon County, Montana.

Sheriff Steward said the Park County Detention Center clearly had the room: It has more than 100 beds and had an average population of 46 in 2014. Steward had estimated that housing perhaps an extra half-dozen inmates on a given day might bring in as much as $100,000 in extra annual revenue, with little-to-no extra cost.

“It would have been nice income for the county,” the sheriff said in a Thursday interview. “But, you know, I guess I don’t have any real major feelings one way or the other.”

Steward said one Park County commissioner has mentioned the possibility of asking the Wyoming Legislature to consider changing the law sometime in the future.

The Carbon County, Montana, Commission learned that Park County was out of the running in late June. According to minutes of their June 25 meeting, the Carbon County commissioners plan to continue looking at other jails and at the possibility of building their own 72-hour holding facility.

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