The escape of an inmate via the Shoshone County Jail’s front door has shed light on the jail’s low staffing – sometimes as low as one guard watching over 50 inmates.
Worker inmate Roy J. Bieluch, 48, escaped around 8 p.m. Tuesday while on a cleaning detail. He used his access to a closet to get into a crawl space through an opening in the ceiling and used the crawl space to get into a room that leads to the main lobby of the jail, said Shoshone County Sheriff Mitch Alexander. He walked out the front door, according to security footage.
Bieluch stole an employee’s purse on his way out the door. He had been in the jail in Wallace since Dec. 12 on charges of burglary, malicious injury to property and failure to appear.
The area the closet is in was not “fortified” during recent years as other areas of the jail have been, Alexander said. The facility was “state of the art” when it was built in 1972, but it no longer meets standards, he said.
Like most nights, there was only one deputy on duty during the escape, Alexander said. The jail accommodates up to 50 inmates, Alexander said.
“You’re supposed to have two jail staff on every shift to meet the Idaho standards,” he said. “Unfortunately, I can’t do that.”
Alexander said he lost two jail deputies to budget cuts in 2008 and never got them back. He has been asking county commissioners for the money to hire two new deputies for the past several years.
“It’s not safe for the guards, it’s not safe for the inmates,” he said. “Every year I ask for that money. If we had that, maybe we wouldn’t be here right now.”
The lack of staff means the jail that typically holds 30 to 40 prisoners a day is not certified by the state, Alexander said.
“When we’re at maximum, I have one person watching 50 people,” he said. “It’s not safe.”
The sheriff doesn’t blame county commissioners, who set the jail budget.
“It’s just the bad economics in the area,” Alexander said. “It all boils down to money, and Shoshone County is hurting.”
Two new county commissioners, Mike Fitzgerald and Jay Huber, took office in January. A tour of the jail had been set up for early March so Alexander could show them problems, such as malfunctioning doors and leaking showers.
Commissioners heard a plea from Alexander on Wednesday for money to fix the issues that led to the escape. Fitzgerald said those repairs will be done, though the cost is yet to be determined.
But the county doesn’t have the $100,000 needed to hire two full-time deputies, said Fitzgerald, the county commission chairman.
“All of the departments could use more money,” he said. “It’s the nature of the times in the valley right now. We’re all pretty lean.”
Fitzgerald said the county will explore new revenue models to alleviate the budget pinch.
“We’re daily checking our budgets and saving our nickels,” he said. “Funding is always one of our issues.”
For now, the sheriff is doing the best he can with what he has, Fitzgerald said.
Meanwhile, deputies are continuing to look for Bieluch, with whom they have dealt several times. He was previously arrested Oct. 10 in Shoshone County on charges of possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of marijuana. He was armed at the time.
He failed to appear for court on Nov. 17 and was located December in Whitefish, Montana, in a stolen vehicle.
He is 5 feet 9 inches tall and 200 pounds with a muscular build and has a shaved head and gray goatee. He also has several tattoos.
Bieluch was thought to be with his girlfriend, Rachel Johnson, but she was arrested in the Wallace area around 4 p.m. Wednesday. A helicopter from Flathead County, Montana, and the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office responded to search the area where Johnson was found.
Anyone with information on Bieluch’s location is asked to call 911 or the Shoshone County Sheriff’s Office at (208) 556-1114, ext. 1.
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