The Business Of Jail And The Aborted Mayoral Candidacy Of Former Missoula County Sheriff, T.J. McDermott

by Travis Mateer

Some interesting things happened in Helena on Tuesday surrounding my interest in the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office and the desire of our former Sheriff, T.J. McDermott, to be Mayor. Has that burning desire finally been doused by reality? According to the Campaign Electronic Reporting System, it would appear the answer is YES (emphasis mine):

Upon review of this publicly available information I was curious about the email address listed for the campaign. Is this the person McDermott hired to help run his campaign?

If it’s true that McDermott’s candidacy has been aborted before today’s official filing date, then his tenure leading the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office won’t have to be scrutinized. I guess it’s up to the NEW Sheriff to figure out how to do difficult things, like manage the real estate commonly known as JAIL.

A recent headline (and a chat with a source) got me thinking about how money considerations might impact jail living conditions. While this includes stuff like healthcare, which is what the article I linked to is about, I’m also thinking about the different jurisdictions that use the jail to hold inmates, and at what varying rates the Sheriff’s Office is paid for providing jail services.

Regardless of who is paying, and how much is being paid, for a night in jail, the cost of healthcare is definitely going up. From the link (emphasis mine):

Citing few immediate options, Missoula County on Tuesday agreed to renew its contract with a provider to oversee medical and mental health services at the detention facility.

The one-year contract extension with Wellpath amounts to $2.2 million – an increase of roughly $540,000 over the original contract.

“With that, they’ve asked for an increase in (employees), which they believe is necessary to effectively execute the contract,” said Sheryl Ziegler, assistant commander of the jail. “They don’t believe they can effectively execute the contract without this addition due to the risk they assume.”

Yes, that’s right, if there are “few immediate options” to compete with Wellpath, then it sounds like a monopoly in “jail care” exists for them. Better pay up.

Yesterday I sent an email inquiring about jail data, so I’ll see what kind of response I get. In the meantime, here’s some idea on the conflict between the legislative cap on how much the STATE of Montana can pay COUNTIES for a night in jail. From the link (emphasis mine):

In a letter to the Law and Justice Subcommittee, where the caps typically originate, the county argues that such unilateral caps conflict with the Department of Correction’s statutory obligation to pay counties the actual cost of holding a state inmate.

“It violates the Constitution and it violates the contractual obligation to Missoula County,” said Anna Conley, the senior civil deputy attorney with the Missoula County Attorneys office. “There’s existing litigation.”

Last April, Missoula County filed a lawsuit against the Department of Corrections claiming it had breached its contract by not covering the full cost of housing state inmates at the local detention center.

The county’s complaint also included an unjust enrichment claim against DOC, along with breach of good faith and fair dealing.

“Missoula County attempted to resolve the situation in which the Department of Corrections is underpaying us for the inmates we house, both on the pre-trial side as well as the correctional facility we have with DOC,” Conley said. “We’re the only county I’m aware of that has filed suit on these particular actions. But there are other counties that are negatively impacted.”

That last point of emphasis got me thinking about the Mineral County jail, since it reopened around the same time this article came out, which was early 2021.

From the link (emphasis mine):

The Mineral County Jail is open once again after being closed for nearly two years.

Mineral County’s new Sheriff, Mike Toth, made reopening the jail his number one priority since swearing in last August.

The jail was built in 1995 but had to close its doors in 2019 dues to staffing issues. Overtime, not having a jail in the county was starting to take a toll.

“We were spending so much money shipping people outside the county to house them,” Sheriff Toth said, “We’d pay daily rates to house them, plus transport. Anytime we had court or anything we would have to go get them and bring them back. And with a small staff it was killing us.”

Well, now that Mineral County has a jail again, they can go back to killing inmates with inattention instead of killing staffing budgets. From the link:

Shane T. Pelletier was found dead on Nov. 26 by Mineral County jail staff. According to the certificate, Pelletier died from asphyxia by hanging, described in the document as “self-inflicted hanging.” Pelletier was 34.

Pelletier was in a cell alone, former Mineral County Sheriff Mike Toth said. A jail staff person was serving lunches to people at the jail when they found him.

According to Mineral County charging documents, Pelletier was facing multiple felony and misdemeanor charges stemming from an alleged Jan. 12, 2021 robbery at a travel center convenience store

An order in the 2021 case signed on Nov. 16, 2022 shows Pelletier was scheduled to be transported from the Mineral County jail to the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs. The order doesn’t list a date of when the transport was scheduled to happen.

Mineral County had one recent prior death in custody in 2021.

I’m very interested in how the rest of the criminal justice system is interfacing with detention facilities across Montana, so I’ll be writing more about this soon, especially considering I’m about to bury the lede by confirming IT’S TRUE, according to Mineral County Deputy Attorney, Wally Congdon, that Ryan Funke’s Sheriff’s Office released the female suspect taken into custody before the shootout at the St. Regis travel center WITHOUT communicating with the Mineral County Attorney’s Office.

How this confirmation came about is a story for another day. Let’s just say I have never been more appreciative of these creatures:

If you’d like to support my work, Travis’ Impact Fund (TIF) is one way to do that. The donation button at my about page is another.

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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1 Response to The Business Of Jail And The Aborted Mayoral Candidacy Of Former Missoula County Sheriff, T.J. McDermott

  1. Ted Hartman says:

    Is it getting warm in here?

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