GREAT FALLS- Jail overcrowding in the Cascade County Detention Center has been an issue for years, and now things are getting worse due to COVID-19.
The jail is meant to house 212 inmates, and right now they're sitting at 312. Some inmates are even forced to sleep on the floor because there simply is not enough room for them.
While this has been an issue for years, Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter says now it’s even worse because inmates waiting to go to various prisons across the state aren’t being moved.
“The lack of movement was previously done in the name of COVID-19. For some time now, the DOC has been moving inmates ever so slowly,” Slaughter says.
Right now, 38 Department of Corrections inmates remain in jail because of a directive put out by Governor Bullock in April.
This directive temporarily suspended all transfers into the DOC's custody with some exceptions.
Sheriff Slaughter says he’s reached out to the department, and even went to the governor about the latest overcrowding, but he’s not getting anywhere with it.
“We are now locked in a legal battle with the Montana supreme court,” Slaughter says. “In fact, the DOC even stated they have the power to leave DOC inmates in jail for whatever period of time they so choose. This is unacceptable when we are housing and caring for their inmates.”
We had a chance to ask the governor about this during a press conference in Yellowstone County earlier Tuesday morning.
“It is on where we are certainly asking...and I talked to the sheriff here as well about making sure that we’re protective of the inmates as well as we deal with this global pandemic,” Bullock said.
“Just because COVID-19 is happening, government function cannot seize,” Slaughter said. “The public demands that we do the right thing, protect people's constitutional rights, and protect the public, we have to do that. We can't turn our back on public safety because of COVID.”
Overcrowding in any jail presents major risks not just for the staff there, but for the inmates as well.
So with no response directly to the sheriff, Slaughter is now asking the people of Cascade County to call the governor’s office to demand action.
“Demand that they move their inmates and make room in our jail,” Slaughter says. “I need to have the ability to house dangerous criminals and protect the public. Furthermore, I have a constitutional duty to protect the inmates inside my facility. This is very difficult to do when we are overcrowded.
Sheriff Slaughter says they have every potential to be very busy this weekend and need the space in the detention center ASAP.
The DOC director's office was unable to reach out for a comment.