Consider human effect of overcrowded Lake County Jail
In this column I would like to address the Lake County Commissioners and the general populace residing in Lake County. Has anybody really addressed the human effect of the current problem concerning the overcrowded jail in Lake County? Let us first consider the duties of the county commissioners concerning the jail overcrowding issue. County commissioners retain the sole power of approving or disapproving all county financial budgets and expenditures. It is also the duty of the county commissioners to explore, research, and attain new and innovative financial sources. Gale Decker recently commented in a published paper indicating his thoughts on the matter. “I will not support any proposal that puts the entire cost of a new facility on property tax payers. There must be other partners who are willing to make significant contributions to help pay construction and operating costs. I have served as Commissioner for five years and have yet to hear any idea for funding other than a property tax levy.” I do agree there probably are other partners who would be willing to make contributions to the overcrowding jail problem. I do agree there probably are some new ideas for funding other than a property tax levy. Have the county commissioners been simply waiting for the past five years for some new idea to materialize from some other entity or individual without any duty or positional work performed by the county commissioners? It is precisely the duty of the county commissioners to explore, research, and secure “other partners who are willing to make significant contributions” on behalf of the residents of Lake County. It is precisely the duty of the county commissioners to explore, research, and come up with “new ideas for funding other than a property tax levy.” Nobody else is authorized or in a position to do the duties previously mentioned. It is not the duty or position of the county attorney, sheriff, justice of the peace, clerk of court, candidates for county positions, and/or anybody else in the county to explore, research, and secure funding sources from “other partners who are willing to make significant contributions or secure new ideas for funding other than a property tax levy.” I will now “weigh in” on the more pressing issue of the real human effect of having an overcrowded jail. Lake County is currently filled with fugitives of justice. There are fugitives of justice on the run, in part, because there is no room in the jail to house them currently. Because there is no room at the jail, the fugitives case file does not move forward for adjudication and possible future rehabilitation of the offender. Fugitives from justice are unable to secure a valid driver’s license. Being able to drive in rural Montana is an essential part of being a productive citizen. Fugitives from justice are unable to secure a job in the local economy. Would you apply for a job if you had to disclose you are a fugitive from justice? If you are an employer would you hire someone who was a fugitive from justice? Fugitives from justice are unable to get the taxpayer funded counseling, substance abuse treatment, and other taxpayer funded social programs they need to eventually become productive citizens. Fugitives from justice are unable to take care of their families causing further financial burden on local and state social resources. Fugitives from justice are sometimes compelled to commit further crimes of theft and burglary to afford the essentials of food, clothing, and shelter. The furtherance of criminal activity results in an overload of case work for law enforcement officials resulting in response and investigative overtime (more money) and material resources (more money) to properly investigate the crimes. Fugitives from justice may cause violent crime resulting in death or injury causing a further drain on the financial resources of the families involved and other government financial resources. As invested citizens we are doing our fellow man and woman a disservice allowing this perpetual problem of creating long-term fugitives to continue. I have identified some of the symptoms and problems of having an inadequate jail. As a citizen of this county I also feel it is my duty to propose a solution despite the fact I have not been elected to officially perform those duties. As a taxpayer of the county I pray the county commissioners perform their elected and official duties and come up with a plan of action to build a much larger jail with an aggressive completion goal within two years. Perhaps through a hybrid plan involving a tax levy and “other partners who are willing to make significant contributions, and new ideas for funding other than a property tax levy.” I advocate a tax levy because we can invest in our community the money needed to build a much larger jail and resolve the financial burdens associated with being a fugitive of justice. Or we can continue to financially pay for the symptoms associated with having a county full of fugitives of justice while continuing to have an overcrowded jail. Building a new and bigger jail will solve many more problems than just finding a place to house criminals. Solving some of the ancillary problems associated with the jail overcrowding problem will ensure a better community for the future while wrapping our arms around the people in our community needing help. I am certain relevant elected officials and private citizens can come together and solve the problem of the overcrowded jail for the foreseeable future. God bless the residents of Lake County, the elected officials who have been duly elected to represent the citizens of Lake County, and America. Respectfully submitted from a concerned citizen.