No Jail And Meager Services Means The Streets Will Take Care Of It

by Travis Mateer

Before writing this post, I scanned every name on the jail roster to make sure Simon is being kept out of jail. Was he yelling crazy shit by the library yesterday? Yeah, but there’s nothing illegal about that. Did he pull a knife while chasing someone last week in broad daylight? Sure, but I’m sure he had his reasons.

While I don’t think street anarchy is the ultimate goal of Missoula’s Jail Diversion Master Plan, I read Martin “Gomer” Kidston’s article because I knew it would make me laugh, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Take it away Gomer!

Efforts to reduce crowding at the Missoula County Detention Center and divert offenders to other resources have shown progress in recent years, saving taxpayer’s money while getting low-level offenders help, the county said.

Sure, this might save money for the COUNTY, but I suspect costs from “diversion” just shift to other things, like city police responses. I’m sure that’s just me being unnecessarily cynical. Let’s continue (emphasis mine):

The Jail Diversion Master Plan was written and adopted in 2016 and included roughly 40 recommendations across a number of categories, such as pre-sentencing and behavioral health.

Efforts made in the latter category have had measurable impacts, according to Chelsea Wittmann, the county’s safety and justice challenge coordinator.

“What’s most impressive about the progress we’ve made since 2016 is that much of it resulted from inter-connected system work,” said Wittmann. “When offices come together, lasting and mutually beneficial changes happen.”

Are you ready for the impacts? It might be hard to see, but I’m sure they are there, somewhere. Let’s take a look for them.

The average length of stay of a defendant held in the county jail stands at around 28 days while the daily jail population hovers at around 184 – a figure that has stayed relatively consistent in recent years.

Yes, I emphasized the part where it sounds like things have stayed relatively the same. I guess that is, by definition, a measurable impact, right?

The next part is even funnier because the only significant change Gomer references is the one forced on the jail by the pandemic, not the “master plan”. I think that’s funny (funny emphasis mine):

But in 2021, the county, courts and law enforcement agreed not to accept people into detention who have been charged with a non-violent offense but not convicted – a move that effectively altered the jail population.

Only non-violent offenses such as resisting arrest, multiple DUI arrests and other extreme circumstances stand as the exception. The change was largely due to the pandemic and without it, Wittmann said the jail would have become “uselessly overcrowded.”

Cool, so those changes were imposed last year, and now we have a “felony holding facility” that we’re somehow expected to believe is following “best practices”. The quoted phrases will be emphasized in Gomer’s hilarious article, which just keeps on giving.

“What’s important is that the composition of our jail has changed drastically,” she said. “Our jail at this point is largely a felony holding facility. We have very few misdemeanants held for any length of time. It keeps our inmate population down and follows best practices on who should be held in regional jails.”

I don’t know about jail best practices, but a best practice for a journalist should be accuracy. If Gomer followed best practices, he wouldn’t produces inaccurate crap like this (emphasis mine):

Efforts to divert offenders from jail altogether have emerged as a leading preference. On that front, Wittmann said, a number of public services have been launched while others are set to come online in the coming year.

The new programs include the Crisis Intervention Team at the Missoula Police Department and the Mobile Support Team at the Missoula Fire Department. The latter serves as a first line of contact for a person experiencing a behavioral health crisis.

The first bold part is just not true, the Mobile Support Team is now at THE POLICE DEPARTMENT. The second bold part is misleading. The Mobile Support Team can only be brought in AFTER contact from law enforcement. That is my understanding, and I’ll be speaking with someone more knowledgeable hopefully later this week about it.

Near the end of the article two new programs coming online soon are referenced. I’ll be curious to see how they operate:

Other programs, such as a crisis receiving center at Western Montana Mental Health, and a navigation center at the Trinity apartment project, will join the programs soon.

These two options are supposed to be the solution to the Harley predicament.

the Harley predicament

The chronically intoxicated also reduce the availability of law enforcement and other local services. The crisis receiving center is expected to help on that front and was identified as a local gap in service needing filled.

“If someone is under the influence of some substance where we can’t properly do a mental health evaluation, those people are brought to the ER or possibly jail. Those are our only options, but they’re not the best options,” said Missoula County Commission Josh Slotnick. “With a crisis receiving center, they can come back to themselves and emerge and meet with someone to help take that next step.”

The bold part is where I start getting confused. Come back to themselves? Harley WANTS to be downtown, drinking himself to death.

One of my suggestions for either of these two facilities is this: have a good walk-in shower/bathtub for hazmat situations, because Harley will make sure you’ll need that kind of infrastructure.

Thanks for reading!

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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