Havre Daily News
The number of women being held in the Hill County Detention Center has increased, mirroring an increase in the state prison system, but Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera said Wednesday the jail hasn't yet run out of places to hold them.
"I've had more female inmates this year than I had last year," Szudera said. "As far as the female population goes, it's increasing."
When the jail was built in 1999, it only had designated spots for eight women. Two years ago, an area originally designed to hold juvenile offenders was opened to adults. The jail does not hold juveniles. Offenders under the age of 18 are taken to the Blaine County Juvenile Detention Center.
The extra space allowed room for six more women, raising the total to 14. This morning, there were 12 women being held in the detention center.
Hill County Attorney Cyndee Peterson said a lot of women come through the criminal justice system, but she doesn't keep track of whether defendants are men or women.
"A defendant is a defendant for me," Peterson said. "We do have a lot of female offenders."
She said the women defendants are generally being held on charges involving drugs, forgery or writing bad checks.
"They also include some assaults and some disorderly (conduct charges), so we do have some violent (female) offenders," Peterson said.
If he has to jail more than 14 women, Szudera said, he can shift the male population around to create extra space. There is a dormitory area that could hold an additional 14 women if it's not being used by male inmates, he said.
Right now, that wouldn't be an issue. There were 53 inmates in the detention center this morning, including 41 men, and the jail can hold a total of 79 inmates.
Even though the male and female jail populations are kept completely separate, all of the cells in the jail could be used to hold either men or women. Each cell has two beds, a sink and toilet, and a shelf for personal items, detention officer Buck Franklin said.
"There's no difference," Franklin said. "You could basically shift everyone around."
If the jail reached its limit, Szudera might have to do some extra wrangling. He said his office does not have any formal agreements with other detention facilities to hold Hill County inmates if the jail were to become overcrowded.
"We're it," he said.
Szudera said the size of the overall jail population sometimes causes detention officers to make some adjustments. For instance, people who are sentenced to serve a day or two in jail sometimes aren't allowed to serve those sentences over the weekend. Offenders may have to take time off work during the week to serve.
The jail's population spikes every weekend, especially in the summer. With warmer weather comes more crime, Szudera said.
An increase of female inmates has also been seen at the Montana Women's Prison in Billings, prison spokeswoman Annamae Siegfried-Derrick said.
"There has been an increasing trend in the number of women inmates," she said.
Five years ago, the prison held 75 women. It now holds 230. A portion of that increase is due to the prison being expanded, which allowed the state to pull female inmates out of a private prison in Shelby. The system has also seen an increase in the number of convictions and prison sentences for women, Siegfried-Derrick said.
According to the state Department of Corrections Web site, the top offense for women in the system over the last 10 years was possession of drugs. For men, theft was the number one offense. Of the number of women in custody, 19 percent were convicted of violent crimes. Of the number of men, 58 percent were serving time for violent crimes.