An overcrowded jail, inmates sleeping on the floor, and some with mental health problems, all are part of the issue called 'jail diversion', a big topic of discussion with the Missoula County Sheriff's Office. 

At a public meeting last night at the Doubletree Hotel, Missoula residents had a chance to hear about some ideas and to present their own. Sheriff T.J. McDermott said the jail has faced overcrowding issues for years.

"We're at the point, and have been for several years now, that our jail's just overcrowded," McDermott said. "At one point a couple of months ago, we had 16 people sleeping on the floor of our booking area. So, we have State Senator Cynthia Wolken writing a master plan for jail diversion. Last night, we had a chance to hear from the public and their ideas on jail diversion, specifically with non-violent offenders."

McDermott emphasized services to inmates that he said could be expanded and improved.

"AA services, mental health services, also expanding service providers at our jail," said McDermott. "Another option we talked about was having a chemical detox facility in lieu of jail where people who are inebriated can go. We also talked about emergency detention and the need in our community for a 24-hour mental health crisis facility."

McDermott said all the alternatives to incarceration would forestall the necessity of building a new jail.

For the next few months, State Senator Wolken  is leading a team crafting the master plan that includes County Commissioner Cola Rowley and Ward Three City Councilor Emily Bentley to address the county’s over-reliance on incarceration.