County jail closes due to staff shortage

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The Mineral County jail has once again closed due to a staffing shortage. It is scheduled to be reopened April 30, 2019. (Kathleen Woodford/Mineral Independent).

Once again the Mineral County Detention Center has been forced to close due to lack of staff. County commissioners met with Jail Administrator, Roni Phillips, Sheriff Mike Boone and County Attorney, Ellen Donohue on Friday, Jan. 18. Initially, the meeting was in regard to the detention center budget but quickly digressed to the lack of staff.

In order to be fully staffed, the detention center needs five employees. Only three are currently on staff with two officers who recently quit. One current officer is going on maternity leave and the other is going for training at the state academy. Leaving only one officer on duty. They are currently advertising for the positions, which start at $12 per hour and go up to a little over $13 after a year.

But, this leaves the department short-handed even after someone is hired due to the training period. A decision was made to close the jail until April 30. This will give them time to hire and train staff. There are currently six inmates in the jail and they will either be released early or sent to other jails. The Mineral County prisoners will go to Sanders County Jail and it is unknown where the prisoners through the Montana Highway Department with be transferred.

However, this does not end the discussion regarding the jail’s budget situation, said Commissioner Roman Zylawy. Currently, the jail’s budgeted revenue is $127,000. Over the last six months, they have only brought in $12,000 in revenue. Part of the issue is the state prison in Deer Lodge has been letting prisoners out, which affects the local jails. The state has decided to not hold as many people in Deer Lodge and so the need for more beds on the local level isn’t as great while they are waiting for a bed in Deer lodge. “It is how they are trying to save money and it is having a ripple effect,” Zylawy said.

He also pointed out that 12 Montana counties have closed their jails due to them no longer being financially viable. Including Red Lodge; Ennis in Madison County; Teton; and Choteau. No decisions about permanently closing the jail will be made soon. With legislation in session, they are waiting to see if there are any changes that may benefit the situation. Also, they will get Mineral County jail fully staffed and reopened and see how things proceed, he said.

The Mineral County jail closed in Nov. 2017 also due to the lack of staff. During that time period, two officers had walked off the job due to low pay and poor working conditions. At that point they were earning $10 to $11 per hour. Also the current Sheriff, Tom Bauer turned in his resignation. Roni Phillips was hired shortly afterwards to fill the newly formed jail administrator position.

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