KALISPELL, Mont. — Flathead County, Mont., commissioners recently approved a 36-bed expansion of the county’s overcrowded jail, and have now selected the design and construction teams to helm the project. Martel Construction Inc., with three Montana offices in Bozeman, Bigfork and Missoula, and CTA Architects Engineers, with a local office in Kalispell, will complete the project jointly as MC Builders. The project is currently estimated at $1.3 million.
The expansion will move a portion of the jail into the existing county attorney’s office. The city attorney offices will be relocated, and the space will be converted for its new function. This move will add roughly 3,500 square feet and make way for 36 new inmate beds. While the modest expansion will improve inmate crowding in the immediate future, it is not intended to be a long-term fix. The county has also assembled a planning committee that will examine potential design, construction and cost scenarios for the construction of a new jail facility in the near future.
Flathead County commissioners officially approved the expansion project in late July 2016, but have been planning financially for it since August 2014, as overcrowding has strained the county jail since the early 1990s. Originally built in 1985 to house a maximum of 63 inmates, the daily inmate population had exceeded 90 by 2013. In recent months, that number has stretched to as high as 126, according to DailyInterLake.com.
“We do desperately need a solution, and we’ve been working pretty diligently on trying to come up with a plan,” Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry told local news outlet KPAX in January. “There have been some that make sense, some that perhaps are a little far out there, but it’s a continual problem that gets worse with each passing week.”
Chronic overcrowding has forced the county to shuffle various offender populations and examine unique solutions. At one point commissioners were considering converting a vacant former Wal-Mart facility into a detention center, and juvenile offenders have already been moved to Missoula, located approximately 120 miles south. The former 12-bed juvenile facility now houses female offenders, however, as the female inmate population grows some have been moved back to the primary jail facility.
Construction is expected to begin later this fall, and work should be completed by spring of 2017.