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Yellowstone County Commissioners ready to hire firm to help determine future jail needs

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Posted at 10:49 PM, Mar 13, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-14 11:41:58-04

BILLINGS - With a major focus on public safety, Yellowstone County Commissioners have taken another step on plans for the jail, both in the short and long term.

Commissioners decided on Tuesday to put out a Request For Qualifications (RFQ) to find a firm that can help with what they call a comprehensive detention center needs assessment.

"They would have to figure out where we are, what they think our population and crime trends would be over the next 20 years at five, 10 15, and 20-year intervals," Morse said about the future of the Yellowstone County Detention Facility.

Last week, commissioners accepted the Billings City Council's offer of $2 million over three years to help with that building process.

It is still going to take some time before a new jail or a temporary facility is built, but commissioners want to make sure they have the right information.

Solving the jail challenge will still be months or even years away and commissioners expect to get a better idea of what is needed later this year.

"The way we're currently doing it doesn't work because we have a jail built for 435,” said Commissioner Mark Morse, R-Yellowstone County. “We regularly run 600 inmates a day there."

The applications are due April 8.

Morse says commissioners will choose a firm on April 23, and he expects it will be about four to five months to get the report.

And while the report is still several months away, and the actual construction of a new jail, remodel or addition is even further out. Commissioners want the information to be able to be presented to voters.

"We want to make a data-driven decision,” Morse said. “I don't want to just spitball and say we need a jail expansion of X number of beds. I want to have data and the report will be public."

Morse says there are two processes, one for the long-term jail needs and one for a temporary hold facility.

"This is a huge step,” said Billings City Council member Jennifer Owen. “We're doing something very innovative here coming together."

Owen and Morris are on a committee that is looking at the overall justice system in the county and city.

The city has pushed for a collaboration with the county and will work together on the short-term 30-bed holding facility for those who have committed misdemeanor crimes.

“Many of those alleged crimes can be can be addressed by getting people in front of a judge very quickly,” Owen said.

Once commissioners approve the plan, it will take 15 months for construction.

The county had suggested the city contribute $3 million and the city responded that it would be able to put up $2 million.

“We went back to the county, and we have to balance this out,” Owen said. “We can come part way your way, but we also have other pressing needs for the city of Billings. So we believe we've come to a reasonable proposal and it sounds like the county agrees."

They came up with the idea,” Morse said. “We think it’s a great idea and we have to do what’s right for public safety. We have to accept that and we have to move on and make Yellowstone County safe for the citizens."

To get an understanding of the process and the issues, Morse suggests citizens look at the RFQ and a letter from the city council to the commissioners.