By Patrick Winderl
The Hill County Detention Center is using extra space to accommodate prisoners from all across the Hi-Line.
"In some aspects, the facility is becoming a regional detention center," Hill County Commissioner Pat Conway said. The 76-bed facility, which is often half empty, is increasingly being used to hold inmates from outside Hill County, Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera said.
Most of the prisoners in the detention center are detained on charges brought by the Havre Police Department or the Hill County Sheriff's Office. Recently however, other law enforcement agencies have increased the number of contract prisoners held in Hill County, he said.
Blaine and Phillips counties, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S. Marshall's Service and the Montana Highway Patrol have all paid Hill County to incarcerate inmates. Hill County is paid $50 a day for each inmate held for other agencies Szudera said.
The money is placed in the county general fund, though part of it goes to pay for jail operations, the sheriff said.
The holiday season saw a jump in the total number of inmates held in Hill County and also in the number of contract prisoners. Normally there are about 30 inmates in the Hill County Detention Center with five or six being contract prisoners, Szudera said. December and early January saw up to 40 or 45 prisoners being held, he said. About a dozen of those were contract prisoners.
The facility classifies prisoners based on the severity of the offense, flight risk and the arresting agency. For instance Border Patrol prisoners face federal charges and are held in maximum security, Szudera said. Most federal prisoners are held in Hill County until arrangements are made to transfer them to facilities closer to federal courts.
Not all prisoners from Hill County are held in the Hill County Detention Center. Juveniles arrested in the Havre area are held in Blaine County because Hill County does not have a detention facility for minors.
Housing juveniles is far more expensive than housing adults, Hill County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said.
"The regulations for the long-term incarceration of juveniles far exceed those of adults, so it costs more to house them," he said. "Hill County pays Blaine County $195 per day for that service."
The Montana Board of Crime Control reimburses Hill County for half that amount, Kaercher said.
One reason other agencies contract with Hill County to house prisoners is to lower liability, Szudera said. The Hill County Detention Center is the newest facility in the region, and was opened in October of 1999. The center has a higher level of security than older facilities, and also has the capability to house mentally ill patients, Les Osborne said. Osborne is the chief deputy for the Hill County Detention Center.
Occasionally, Hill County houses mentally ill prisoners, Osborne said.
"We have an area where we can give these people a chance to have some time away from the other prisoners," he said. "The area allows us to monitor them a little better."
Today, 38 prisoners are in the Hill County Detention Center. Nine of those are contract prisoners.