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Barbara Rodrick, assistant commander at the Missoula County jail, stands near the facility’s outdoor recreation area.

Missoula County officials will apply for a grant from the Montana Department of Health and Human Services later this summer to help plan a new crisis center with beds reserved for emergency detention.

It's a niche that jail staff and mental health providers say is missing from the array of services Missoula needs for people who are suffering from mental illness.

It also may be the missing link needed to alleviate some of the Missoula County jail's overcrowding woes.

"When you have someone in crisis and you handcuff them and put them in the back of the cop car, you don't have the best outcome," Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss said.

Curtiss met with the Missoula County Sheriff's Department administration, as well as representatives from the Office of Planning and Grants and Western Montana Mental Health Center on Thursday afternoon.

County grants administrator Nancy Rittell said the $150,000 grant application should be completed by the end of July.  

It's unclear how many beds the crisis center would have. The Hope House in Bozeman has three secure beds with eight crisis-stabilization beds. Lake County is currently building a similar facility, called Lake House, designed to have six crisis beds and two emergency detention beds, at a cost of $1.3 million. 

Similar crisis centers also exist in Hamilton and Butte, the West House and the Hays-Morris House.

Curtiss, who also serves on the mental health board, said in the past she often thought Missoula was in critical need of such a facility, but it was overlooked because of all the other services available in the area.  

"The crisis piece is one that we know we need," Curtiss said. "We have more things lined up than ever before. It's our turn. I think we are ready for it. With the new elected officials in office, there's a lot of energy." 

One of those newly elected officials is Sheriff T.J. McDermott, whose campaign platform included jail reform. He and Undersheriff Jason Johnson have consistently noted the Missoula County Detention Center is used inappropriately as a detox facility and a holding facility for mentally ill people who commit crimes.

Guards aren't trained as psychologists or addiction counselors, they say, and lack the resources and training to serve such inmates.  

There's also the issue of overcrowding at the Missoula jail. At the end of May, 14 Department of Corrections inmates were transferred to the Ravalli County jail because of severe overcrowding. 

Barbara Rodrick, assistant commander of the Missoula County jail, later said that before they were transferred, inmates had been sleeping on the floor and in booking cells. 

A new crisis center isn't the only potential solution to the overcrowding issue the sheriff's department is examining.

The jail diversion team recently received an $80,000 grant in an attempt to mitigate the issue. The Pay for Success grant from the Policy Innovation Lab will look into developing new ways to address overcrowding at the jail.

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