Posted: Feb 28, 2013 10:46 PM by Robin O'Day - MTN News
MISSOULA - The American Civil Liberties Union filed a class action lawsuit against the Missoula County Sheriff's Department last September after a handful of Missoula County Detention Center prisoners complained they were not getting fresh air.
The Sheriff's Office is stepping up to build an outdoor facility, but the question remains as to whether or not Missoula taxpayers will be footing the bill.
Under the weight of the ACLU lawsuit, the Missoula County Sheriff's Office says they decided to avoid court and hired an architect to design an outdoor area for inmates.
Sheriff Carl Ibsen says it's a decision that saves everyone time in the end.
"Obviously if you look at it and say gosh, can we fight the lawsuit and win it?" he said. "Even if we can, is the next one a year down the road and the next one a year after that. The reality is, if we are supposed to provide outside rec, then that's the right thing to do."
All the key players agree to take care of the issue now, stay out of court if possible and save the taxpayer from a hefty attorney fee.
"We may prevail in the lawsuit, but it's a considerable expense of taxpayer money to find out and if the handwriting is on the wall, then you're better off recognizing it. Attempt to resolve it," Missoula County Risk Manager Hal Luttschwager said.
The upgrade will cost $172,000 from reserve funds which taxpayers have already paid for, but the annual cost of the upgrade will run around $350,000, which works out to be roughly $5.70 a year for each taxpayer. A cost which Luttschwager said is unavoidable.
"If we have to change overtime, that happens in many industries, including government, whether it's changing cars to have airbags to protect you or providing constitutionally guaranteed rights to inmates, that's something we have to do."
The evolving standards of a detention center may be hard to predict, but the Sheriff's Department thinks this upgrade should stick.
"This is not only the most cost effective idea, it's a very good alternative and it's the quickest one to get in place as well," Ibsen said. "It's one that will suffice for us for quite some time in the future, basically, biggest bang for the buck."
Funding for the project needs to be met before construction on the outside facility can start.