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Commissioners look at addition for Yellowstone County jail

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Posted at 10:58 PM, Jan 04, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-05 11:36:52-05

With community safety a priority in 2024, Yellowstone County commissioners are exploring plans to expand the jail.

A proposal calls for the addition of a new $3.3 million temporary holding facility for 33 inmates on 72-hour holds.

Commissioners heard about the idea Thursday that they say will solve part of the problem.

The Yellowstone County Detention Facility currently has just under 600 inmates, which is already over capacity, according to the county's jail committee.

Now that committee is proposing a 33-bed addition.

"This is exactly what our sheriff had been talking about for a year, year and a half now," said Commissioner John Ostlund, a Republican. "And so we've got a design on it, temporary design. The next step will likely be to go out for an architectural design for it to bring us back, so we can get the project out."

Ostlund says this will be a permanent addition for temporary holds.

The idea of a temporary addition has been mentioned, but Ostlund says that would not meet the standards required of jails.

"This really solves a lot of the immediate problems that we have about arresting people on the weekend," Ostlund said. "Having consequences for their actions, put them in jail and having them arraigned."

"If there's no consequences for bad behavior, that bad behavior continues and gets worse," said Billings Mayor Bill Cole. "One misdemeanor leads to another misdemeanor, which eventually leads to felonies. It's not so much the severity of punishment that counts. It's the certainty."

Cole says while the county owns and runs the jail, it's possible the city may help financially with this plan.

"I'm pretty confident there's going to be a lot of support at the City Council to make some sort of contribution as long as it's tied to our knowing that there would be additional jail space for low level misdemeanors," Cole said.

The proposed structure will be modular so more can be built.

This would solve part of the jail space problem, and Ostlund expects a recommendation from the jail committee.

"Maybe we need 200 beds, maybe we need 600 beds," Ostlund said. "But that group will come back with a number and that will start the process."

"We're working to try to address it and it's going to take time," Cole said. "But even the longest journey begins with a single step."

Commissioners estimate if approved, this addition would be ready in a year and a half.