Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry is proposing the closure of the juvenile detention center in Kalispell to make more room for adult inmates.
The proposal comes as law enforcement officials continue to grapple with an overcrowded county jail. The Flathead County Detention Center can hold up to 107 inmates, but Curry said recently it has housed nearly 120 prisoners.
Closing the juvenile facility, which is adjacent to the adult jail, would open up 14 additional beds.
“Everyone knows the old jail is crowded, but in the last few weeks it’s been a crisis,” Curry said. “This is my Plan A and I don’t have a Plan B right now. I don’t have any other way to quickly increase my jail space except by moving adults into the juvenile detention center.”
Curry said he would recommend the closure to the county commissioners on Oct. 28. If approved by commissioners, the juvenile inmates would be moved to a detention facility in Missoula. The sheriff hopes to start placing adult prisoners in the juvenile space by Dec. 1.
The local facility averages about four juvenile inmates a day, Curry said.
In the past, jail officials have worked with district court judges and the county attorney’s office to release low-risk adult prisoners. Curry said on two recent occasions, inmates released on a Friday were back in the jail before the end of the weekend. One had stolen multiple cars during the few days he was free. Curry said the Flathead County jail traditionally housed a mixture of people accused of or convicted of misdemeanor and felony crimes. In August, when there were 108 inmates in the detention center, 106 were charged with felonies.
Until recently, Flathead County was looking to buy the former WalMart in Evergreen and converting that into a jail, but in September another party offered more money for the building.
“This is a Band-Aid until we can come up with a long-term solution,” Curry said, adding that the juvenile facility could reopen in the future.
Curry noted that most communities do not have a juvenile detention center. Youth who are arrested in Lake, Sanders and Mineral counties are usually held in Missoula. Curry said the county has negotiated a reduced fee for the Missoula facility to hold inmates from the Flathead.
But not everyone thinks closing the juvenile facility is a good idea. Mike Renaud has volunteered at the facility for 15 years and worries that moving kids to Missoula will be hard on families who want to visit them.
“This would take these kids away from their community and away from any support system they may have,” he said. “To move them 120 miles away could be disruptive of the support system they have.”