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Park County jail is getting full, sheriff says

The Park County Detention Center in Cody is getting close to being at full capacity — and that’s forced the Sheriff’s Office to shuffle inmates around the facility. The situation was discussed at a Tuesday Park County Commission meeting, although no solutions were proposed. The Park County Detention Center in Cody is getting close to being at full capacity — and that’s forced the Sheriff’s Office to shuffle inmates around the facility. The situation was discussed at a Tuesday Park County Commission meeting, although no solutions were proposed. Photo courtesy Park County Sheriff’s Office

Cody facility housing roughly twice as many inmates as 2014

A couple years ago, Park County Sheriff Scott Steward considered housing some Montana inmates to fill some empty jail beds and generate some extra revenue for the county. But the sheriff’s willingness to take on extra inmates has since been replaced with concern about having too many inmates of his own.

“Our numbers are way up,” Steward told Park County commissioners on Tuesday.

The average number of people housed at the Park County Detention Center has sharply risen over the past few years. On the average day in 2014, there were 45 people locked up in the Cody jail. Last year, that figure stood at 68 inmates; over the past couple of months, numbers have been hovering around 85-90 people. Steward said the population at the 106-bed facility recently hit a high of 94 inmates. If the recent numbers represent a trend, it means the population has doubled in roughly three years.

Steward said the “scary thing” is that, although there are 106 beds, the need to segregate higher-risk offenders, men, women and juveniles means it’s not as simple as needing one bed per person.

“We have areas with empty bunks, but then areas where we have 15 bunks with 20 people living in them,” Steward said, explaining that they set up cots in those pods. “It’s a bigger issue than just ‘we’re getting close to the magic number.’ … Actually, it’s affecting us already.”

He said his office is continually shuffling different groups of people to different pods to make sure that they have enough space — something that’s carefully watched by civil liberties groups.

Feeding, housing and providing medical care for the inmates was budgeted to cost the county around $336,000 this fiscal year (with about two-thirds being the contract for medical services) and Steward thinks he’ll exceed that amount with the higher population.

“Our food, our everything’s just skyrocketing,” he said.

A total of 87 people were listed on the detention center’s online roster on Tuesday: 62 men and 25 women. They ranged in age from 18 to 62 years old, with a median age of 29.

Many are waiting for their cases to be resolved, while other are serving sentences; the crimes they’re alleged to have committed range from murder to drug possession to DWUI; some people will likely spend only a day or two in jail, while a few have been behind bars for more than a year.

As Park County was building its current jail in 2005, “I told you .... build it big and we’ll fill it,” county prosecuting attorney Bryan Skoric reminded commissioners.

“Well, we built it so we could add onto it,” said Commissioner Tim French, to an immediate “no” from Commissioner Joe Tilden.

“I don’t know what the answers are,” Skoric said. He didn’t speculate on why the jail population has risen, but Skoric recently told the Tribune that the number of cases filed by his office is “way up” and that he believes those numbers are largely attributable to drug use in the area.

Steward wondered whether a 2015 law that made it easier for police to arrest people on suspected probation or parole violations has been a factor; previously, those arrests had to be arranged by a prosecutor.

The online jail roster does not show how many inmates are there because of officer arrests for probation violations, but the data does show that most of the people behind bars — roughly 55 of the 87 inmates — are alleged to have violated either bond or probation conditions.

2014 saw the lowest average daily population at the Park County Detention Center since its opening in April 2006. That’s when Steward looked into the feasibility of housing some inmates from Carbon County, Montana, which does not have a jail and has been looking for a cheaper option than the jail in Billings. However, at that time, Park County was advised by Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael that county-run jails did not have the legal authority to take out-of-state inmates.

Some county officials lobbied to change the law and last month, the Wyoming Legislature unanimously passed Senate File 30, which gives counties the power to hold inmates from other states. It takes effect July 1.

Carbon County still is interested in finding an affordable place to house some of their inmates, said Commissioner Loren Grosskopf, who recently visited with his counterparts there.

“They’re waiting anxiously,” Grosskopf told Steward, adding, “I mean, would you take five or 10?”

“No,” Steward said, before Grosskopf even finished asking the question. “I wouldn’t even take one at this point.”

2 comments

  • posted by Shawnee Moon

    May 22, 2017 3:24 am

    I'm curious what percentage of the inmates are in there for possession of marijuana. While other states are profiting wildly from taxes on marijuana sales, Wyoming spends hundreds of thousands of dollars detaining people who had marijuana on their person. What happens when the jails get full? Will rapists and child molesters and wife beaters get released early to make room for the pot smokers? Jails keep people who have been deemed a danger to society segregated from the public for the safety of the people. Marijuana users pose no threat to society, nor even to themselves and therefore don't need to be kept away from the population.

    Opiate usage went down in the states that legalized marijuana, because some of the people smokie pot for pain relief; it's so much safer than Vicodin or OxyContin. The ripple effect would be that less opiate prescriptions would be written and filled, so fewer pills would be available for people to steal or distribute illegally, and less injuries and deaths from overdoses. And less people in jail for illegal possession of narcotics.

    Wyoming needs to live up to its nickname, the Equality State, and legalize marijuana, if not just to free up space in jail for real criminals, but to join the other more progressive states in the proven-lucrative industry of medical and recreational marijuana. The marijuana market creates jobs in retail and agriculture and the even opportunities for people in the government to oversee regulations and distribution. The taxes raised could be used for drug education and rehabilitation programs for non-violent drug users to discourage repeated offenses. The taxes could also keep our jails from becoming private, money-making enterprises, which interferes with fair justice and punishment. And of course the revenue from marijuana sales could help fund schools, shelter our homeless, repair potholes, and provide more services to the people of Wyoming. Instead, the government scratches its head and wonders why the jails are packed and where all the state's money is going so fast.

  • posted by John Clark

    March 15, 2017 4:06 pm

    Easy solution!! Quit arresting people.

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