Ravalli jail to be judged 

A Ravalli County jail official confirmed Tuesday that an inspector from the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) was scheduled to tour the jail Wednesday and Thursday as part of an evaluation of the facility, a step prompted by three inmate suicides within the last two months.

Training officer Jason Zimmerman says the inspector will look at everything from the physical layout of the jail to inmate-to-officer ratios, and the agency is expected to make recommendations for change. Though Zimmerman says he’s not sure what those suggestions may include, Sheriff Chris Hoffman, who’s in charge at the jail, said at a May 23 press conference he expected increased mental health care to be among the recommendations.

The jail, which can house 80 inmates but only held 48 Tuesday, has no doctor or nurse on staff. Instead, inmates are taken to Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital in emergency cases; otherwise mental health providers are on call. When prisoners first come to the jail, they fill out a self-assessment regarding their mental health.

The NIC is an agency within the Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of Prisons, and though it does not have authority to dictate or enforce standards, it provides training and recommendations to federal, state and local corrections centers.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, the Independent requested and received Tuesday a report generated by a U.S. Marshals Service inspection of the Hamilton jail on March 30, 2004. The agency conducts annual inspections because the jail houses federal prisoners, though Hoffman has said the vast majority of inmates come from within Ravalli County. Jail conditions are broken into nine different sections, including health care, security and safety, and 58 of the 59 inspection categories are marked “compliant,” the highest rank. The one category marked “partially compliant” concerns background and reference checks for the jail staff, but no further details are given.

Zimmerman didn’t know whether a similar inspection report might be generated by the NIC or when forthcoming recommendations may be issued or implemented.

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