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Yellowstone County Seeks Voter's Permission to Pay for Jail Expansion

Jackie Yamanaka

One of the issues on Yellowstone County’s June primary ballot is overcrowding at the jail. Voters will be asked to give the county permission to pay for jail expansion.

The jail is bursting at the seams. The facility was built to hold 286 inmates, both men and women; as of last weekend there were 504 inmates.

Captain Sam Bofto is the jail commander. He says it’s like a pressure cooker for the inmates when the facility is this crowded,” It does affect the inmates and it does affect their attitude.”

And he says it’s a matter of safety, “We see them get more violent with fights within the units.”

The women in the jail are impacted the most. There are more women than cells so some are sleeping on cots out in the open of the women’s section.

Overcrowding puts pressure on the YCDF staff. Bofto says it creates a lot of challenges. “It puts a lot of stress on the staff,” he said, “Meals, laundry, property all sorts of stuff that goes on in here in day-to-day operations.”

Last year local voters said no when Commissioners asked for an increase in property taxes to pay for jail expansion.

This time the county is taking a different approach.  The commissioners want to borrow more than nine million dollars to build a 148 bed addition to house the women. The money would be repaid over an extended period with dollars coming from existing tax resources.

State laws requires the county ask voters to approve any increase in borrowing over two million dollars.  The request is on the June 7, 2016 primary ballot.

Kay Erickson has been working in broadcasting in Billings for more than 20 years. She spent well over a decade as news assignment editor at KTVQ-TV before joining the staff at YPR. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University, with a degree in broadcast journalism. Shortly after graduation she worked in Great Falls where she was one of the first female sports anchor and reporter in Montana.