Flathead County to Close Juvenile Detention Center

Commission supports sheriff’s decision to temporarily shutter facility to make room for growing adult population

By Justin Franz
Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry is proposing the closure of the juvenile detention center in Kalispell to make more room for adult inmates. He makes a recommendation to the Flathead County Commissioners on Oct. 28, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

The Flathead County Commission unanimously supported the plan to close the Juvenile Detention Center in Kalispell on Monday to make room for a growing adult inmate population.

Last week, Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry asked the commission to move Flathead County’s juvenile inmates to a facility in Missoula and house adult female inmates in the youth jail. The move would free up 14 additional beds for adult male inmates in the Flathead County Detention Center, which has been grappling with a rapidly growing population this year.

“It’s a Band-Aid solution, but it’s the only solution I can see right now,” Curry said.

On Nov. 2, five days after he made his initial pitch, the county commission passed a motion supporting Curry’s plan.

While the current county jail was built to hold about 60 inmates, it often houses more than 100 adult prisoners every night and recently hit 119 inmates.

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 days he was free.

Curry said the Flathead County jail traditionally housed those 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.

Curry said there are currently four juvenile inmates being held in Kalispell and, if the commission approved the closure, they would be moved to Missoula. Curry is currently trying to negotiate a reduced rate with the jail in Missoula to hold Flathead inmates. On Nov. 2, the sheriff said those efforts were ongoing, but he estimated that it would cost the county between $200,000 and $350,000 annually to house the juvenile inmates in Missoula.

The sheriff hopes to start placing adult prisoners in the juvenile space by Dec. 1

The commission briefly inquired about the availability of city jail space in Kalispell, Whitefish and Columbia Falls, but Curry noted those facilities only had holding cells.

During the Nov. 2 meeting, the commission said they hoped the juvenile facility would eventually reopen.

“I want to make sure this is only a temporary solution and that these juveniles do not leave our valley forever,” Commissioner Phil Mitchell said.