MILES CITY, Mont. — The Montana Department of Corrections, Youth Services Division, recently announced plans to convert an existing 20-bed unit at its 120-bed Pine Hills Youth Correctional Facility to serve young adults. The facility, located in Miles City, will soon open to male offenders between the ages of 18 and 25.
Research has shown that young adults brains do not fully develop until age 25 and that this age group has a greater tendency to be impulsive, take risks and make poor decisions, according to the department’s website. By specifically addressing the needs of young offenders while they are still maturing, the department hopes to improve the outcomes for these offenders and increase the likelihood that they will succeed upon release.
Montana’s efforts over the past 15 years to treat, deter and rehabilitate youth headed for correctional facilities have already proven successful. For example, the number of youth confined in state correctional facilities between 1997 and 2011 decreased 51 percent. The state now hopes its success with youth offenders will extend to young adult offenders as well. Of the more than 4,000 adult male offenders in a state or contracted facility in Montana on Jan. 25, 600 — or 15 percent — were between the ages of 18 and 25, according to a statement by the department.
“If we can keep these young offenders away from career criminals and murderers, and give them a better chance to grow up into responsible adults, we can have a positive impact,” Department of Corrections Director Mike Batista said in a statement. “Sending them to a separate facility protects them from potential manipulation and abuse by older inmates. And the more we can do to give these young adults a real chance for success when they return to our communities, the safer we’ll all be.”
Before being placed in the special Pine Hills unit, adult inmates must be assessed as low- to medium-risk and have no history of violent or sexual crimes. They must also be able to benefit from vocational training, education and treatment offered at the facility. The young adult-focused programming will use a cognitive behavioral approach that also integrates job readiness training and career development. Additionally, the inmates will be provided with mental health and substance abuse treatment and life skills training.
Pine Hills Youth Correctional Facility already offers an accredited onsite high school that provides high school courses and special education services to young offenders as well as HiSET testing. In addition, young adult offenders in the program have access to a computer network for job and educational preparation and training. A new pilot program provides young adult offenders the opportunity to earn certification in basic skills that will prepare them for entry-level jobs in carpentry, welding and vehicle maintenance, according to the department website.
Once the staff and programming have been adapted for young adults, the initiative will slowly be expanded.