GREAT FALLS – On Monday, Cascade County Sheriff Bob Edwards sent out a memo informing local officials that the Cascade County Detention Center will not admit non-violent misdemeanor offenders.
Edwards wrote in the memo that the jail had 531 inmates despite being designed to house only 362 inmates.
"We are extremely overcrowded, and I have a huge concern for the safety of my officers. I also have a responsibility to the inmates themselves,” Edwards said.
He said having that amount of people in one place raises tension and increases assaults on detention officers and other inmates.
The AFCME Local 28 County Adult Detention Officers Union also supports Edwards’ decision, stating in a Wednesday release it has concerns about officer safety.
"The detention officers union has supported me in this. They back my play because they understand how dangerous it is in here,” Edwards said.
As of right now, the jail will not accept non-violent misdemeanor warrants and non-violent misdemeanors.
Before Edwards made his decision, he said he consulted with the county’s legal team and learned he has the authority to proceed.
"Officers still have the discretion to bring people here," he said. "It will be a case-by-case basis. If it is a public safety issue, I am not going to turn them away."
Edwards said some agencies in Cascade County are upset over the decision and city of Great Falls officials have expressed frustration. He added that since the memo was released, the conversation on how to manage the overcrowding problem has started.
"We are not the only ones in the state of Montana that has this issue. This I know. I have been warning people specifically here since 2015,” Edwards said.
Some of the feedback he has received has criticized the jail for taking in paid beds for federal or even state inmates over county inmates.
"We get roughly $1.2 million from the county to operate this facility. The overall operating budget for the detention center alone is roughly $10 million, so we are tasked to make that money,” Edwards said.
He said they received another $5 million from the state prison, but if they cut the paying beds, they must make up the rest of the budget.
While the overcrowding conversation is taking place, Edwards wants residents to know they are safe.
"The bottom line is I am not refusing violent people. I am not refusing public safety issues,” Edwards said.
Since Monday, the jail population has shrunk to 489 inmates.