Missoula Lock Up
Kathleen Jenks, Missoula’s head municipal court judge, needs to be commended. Because of her systematic dismantling of alternatives to jail, the bottleneck in the system has become the jail, and the jailers aren’t too happy about it.
Jenks should be commended because she is showing Missoula how problematic her unipolar, hammer/nail approach to judicial accountability is, in practice. After Jenks’ing treatment courts and effectively scorching the earth of that decision by firing Marie Anderson, it’s now the work program being subjected to intentional judicial atrophy:
In the past, just 5 percent of the people Judge Louden sentenced in Municipal Court did jail time, said Peggy Turner, an administrative assistant in the detention center. She said the bulk of them – 75 percent to 80 percent – served their sentences through the work program instead, but Judge Jenks isn’t using that program.
“She’s starting to throw everybody in jail instead of letting them do the work program,” said Turner, who schedules people in the program.
The program allows people to work off their sentences; one day of work equals two days in jail. People do maintenance at the facility, they work at the fairgrounds, and many request hours at the animal shelter.
“It gives them a chance to do something constructive rather than waste their time in jail,” Harris said.
It costs less, too, Turner said: The work program costs $35 a day, and jail costs $100 a day. She used to have six or eight people working every day, and the schedule would be full two and a half months in advance. Now, she said, she doesn’t have enough people to work, and she’s only scheduled a week or week and a half out.
The result? Keila Szpaller leads her Sunday piece with this:
For the first time since it opened, the Missoula County jail has been consistently full for months, and tensions inside are running high, according to detention center staff.
The jail on Mullan Road has been operating since 1999, and it accommodates roughly 224 adult inmates from the local courts. Detention manager Mark Harris said the facility is considered full when capacity hits 80 percent.
“The last 10 months, we’ve been at capacity every day,” Harris said. “Before that, we occasionally got there, but not for a long period at a time.”
In the past, most of the inmates had committed serious crimes, but the population makeup has changed, too, detention officials said. Now, the bulk of the cells are filled with people who have committed minor offenses.
There are aspects of this increased job security for jailers that I agree with, like DUI offenders getting prolonged opportunities for introspection.
But when it’s someone who is obviously mentally ill, a detention facility and its staff are not prepared to provide adequate care, as recent history and costly lawsuits have shown.
If cost is the main concern, then let’s start doing the math of cramming the jails and starving the work program. And if that math doesn’t work, then maybe it’s time for some voter math, like how many days until Jenks is up for reelection.