BILLINGS, Mont. — Yellowstone County Detention Facility staff members in Billings have long awaited the 30-year-old jail’s expansion, which is now set to begin in the next few weeks, according to KTVQ. The overcrowded facility, rated for 286 inmates, has regularly topped 500 over the past year. In May 2016, for example, jail officials reported that the total jail population, including both males and females, had reached 521 inmates.
The aging facility hasn’t undergone a significant renovation in two decades, when a new dormitory was completed..
When the jail’s 148-bed expansion is complete, however, it will offer much needed space for female inmates while also increasing the size of the laundry and kitchen facilities and adding an exercise/multi-purpose area. Despite installing double bunks, the female housing area is currently designed to hold just 38 inmates, but often averages more than 100 inmates, forcing many to sleep on cots and creating potentially dangerous classification and separation challenges. The expansion and creation of improved female housing areas will also help the county increase housing parity with male inmates and shield it from a potential civil rights suit.
Schutz Foss Architects of Billings was selected out of a pool of four applicants in February 2014 to design and engineer the expansion and renovation. The county has also been working with locally based consultant Hulteng CCM Inc., since October 2016 and put out construction bids for the project in December 2016. After receiving seven bids from both local and regional contractors, a committee that included the county’s finance director, facilities superintendent, deputy county attorney, and bond project manager, along with Jail Commander Sam Bofto, selected Swank Enterprises of Billings. The firm will complete the project using the construction manager at-risk method.
When the construction aspect of the project is complete, inmates from other parts of the complex will be transferred in to allow the vacated areas to be renovated and for crews to perform general maintenance. When renovations are complete, the women will be moved into their new housing spaces. County officials estimate that the new unit will begin housing its first inmates in the spring of 2018.
The cost of the project is about $17 million, and the plan is to pay the amount off in installments of roughly $750,000 annually, according to KQTV. The project will be offset by funds generated by housing state and federal inmates, which will increase as more housing is made available.
Nearly 22,400 Yellowstone County, Mont., voters lent their support to the project in June 2016, garnering approximately 57 percent of the vote. The public vote approved the borrowing of $9.7 million, with $7.8 million being pulled from the county’s capital improvement and reserve accounts.
In 2015, however, voters rejected an earlier request for the project. As a result, slightly more than $1 million that would have been allocated for the expansion and renovation was instead invested in new electronic security system and a renovation of the existing control room. Completed by Diamond Construction Inc., of Billings, the system improved access control and added new security cameras.