The cost of not having a County Jail

Tying up resources

The Madison County Sheriff’s Office is increasingly spending its resources on transporting and boarding prisoners.

The cost of not having a jail in Madison County affects multiple aspects of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office $2 million budget. Deputies spend hours transporting inmates to and from court appearances and arrested individuals to neighboring facilities up to 90 miles away. With arrests increasing in the county and neighboring jails filling up, some Madison County arrestees will be cited and released rather than jailed.

“We don’t get turned down often,” Madison County Sheriff Phil Fortner said. “But it happens a few times a year and it’s getting to be a problem.”

Madison County’s arrestees are mostly transported to Gallatin County or Jefferson County detention centers. According to Fortner, it takes three to six hours to process an individual arrested in Madison County, and the deputy who made the arrest is unavailable to respond in Madison County for the time. The patrol spot is left vacant unless an off-duty officer is available to work overtime. The commute to the detention centers often prolongs deputies’ shifts into overtime as well.

According to the Madison County budget, from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020 MCSO employees accumulated over 2,300 hours. Five Madison County deputies each worked over 200 hours in overtime during the fiscal year, not including the sheriff because it is a salaried position. 

Fortner said that many of those overtime hours are connected to transports.

“We don’t have enough people to fulfill the obligation to respond to Madison County,” Fortner said.

The MCSO has more deputies than it has ever had with 14 on the roster, including the Sheriff. But the added responsibility of transporting inmates exhausts the department’s resources. The busy night of four arrests July 26 tied up the MCSO into the next morning, according to Fortner. Madison County’s two-cell jail, located in the courthouse basement, closed July 19, 2019 for good reason. Poor conditions of the 72-hour holding facility brought multiple civil lawsuits to the county in the early 2000s. The Madison County Attorney’s Office recommended to close the jail because the amount of mold that was detected in the 144-year-old facility was a liability.

Madison County has $2.3 million in the budget for capital improvements on the courthouse and jail. County commissioners are discussing plans to remodel the basement, but the timeline is unclear as well as how much it will cost. According to Madison County’s Chief Financial Officer Vicki Tilstra, most of that $2.3 million will be reserved for the future project.

The county tried to incorporate a jail in the design of the commissioners’ office. The expensive but needed addition of a new jail failed to get voters’ approval twice. According to Fortner, the Virginia City Town Council does not want a jail in its historic district, which doubles as the county seat. MCSO used $73,900 of its 2019-2020 budget on transporting equipment. The department spent about $42,000 on fuel and $17,000 in vehicle repairs and maintenance. The county budget for tires and tubes for the MCSO increased 38% to $11,000 this year. Madison County spent $154,945 last year on boarding prisoners.

“At the rate we’re going, I’ll be surprised if we make the budget this year,” Fortner said.

Make Top Lead Story on Website

More Information

The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

Cori Koenig, editor:
Susanne Hill, billing: 
Erin Leonard, legal ads:
Ad orders, inserts, classifieds:
Comment Here