As part of the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office Citizens’ Academy, participants are given the opportunity to tour the detention center to gain a better understanding of how the facility works.
The detention center was built in 1998 at a cost of $25 million. Since opening, it has booked in more than 112,000 inmates.
It has more than 370 beds, but routinely has more than 420 inmates, meaning some prisoners are left to sleep on the floor.
The facility is funded through the county budget, but also gets $69 a day for each of the more than 150 state prison inmates incarcerated there. Money also comes from housing federal prisoners, a practice stemming from the fact that Great Falls has a Federal Courthouse and a major airport.
Each day is different with its own set of issues at the detention center - from complaints about food to medical calls to the longer-lasting effects of Covid-19.
“There’s a lot of extra duties,” said CCSO Detention Officer Michael Lenahan. “We have to sanitize between when inmates come out for their time out in the day room. Trying to keep people separated is sometimes a challenge because we only have a certain number of cells.”
“You had to come up with a quarantine pod so that you had a place to ensure that you were putting healthy people in with healthy people,” said Sheriff Jesse Slaughter. “But that whole concept took a long time to get there because of that fact that we were super overcrowded at that point in time.”
New inmates are housed in designated blocks where they will stay until they pass two Covid tests. After that, the county’s general male population goes to pod three, which has 108 beds.
Female inmates and segregated males are in pod two which also has 108 beds. Male inmates from the state prison are in pod one which has 160 beds.
The state inmates have different privileges including dental services, Direct TV, which they pay for, and an expanded menu from which family members can order.
“They can get pizzas, burritos, salads, sodas, stuff like that stuff that we don’t normally offer for our meal,” said Lieutenant Zach Semenza of the CCSO Detention Center.
They also have a more extensive weight room and a hobby area.
Detention officers are tasked with the care, custody, and control of more than 400 inmates on average.
“It’s based on a trust issue,” said Corporal Brandi Monks of the CCSO Detention Center. “If you tell an inmate you’re going to do something and don’t do it, they’re not going to trust you.”
“The job takes a strong mentality, someone who’s ready to take on the challenge,” said detention officer Corporal Shelby Kasper. “It’s a great job but it’s a challenging job.”
When inmates leave, the hope is they won’t be back.
“It’s good to see them get out,” said Corporal Dawn Bahnmiller. “We wish them the best and hope they can keep going on the straight and narrow on the street and not come back.”
There are currently 92 detention center officers, and the county is looking for more. For those hoping to apply or lean more about working at the detention center, staff members will be holding a meet and greet with the public on May 2nd.
"We are actively recruiting people to come work in our jail, we have slots open,” said Detention Officer Darby Reardon. “We just went through some awesome negotiations with the administration and union, we work together as a team. We've really opened the door for people to come in here.
The meet and greet will take place at Schulte’s Coffeehouse in Great Falls from 12:30 to 4.