HELENA, Mont. — Montana is the latest state to grapple with a growing correctional population, putting a strain on both state prisons and local county facilities.
The state has experienced an uptick in violent crime — including rape and homicide — meaning inmates are receiving longer sentences and spending more time behind bars. This has already forced the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge to move inmates to private facilities throughout the state at a cost. Housing an inmate at a state prison costs roughly $100 daily, while the cost to hold state inmates at county facilities can range from $50 to $100.
Further crowding could push the state back into triple bunking inmates and paying to house inmates out of state. However, Montana State Prison Warden Leroy Kirkegard told the Helena Independent Record in early December that he will do his best to avoid either of those options. Instead, the warden is focusing his efforts on increasing collaboration between state, local and nonprofit agencies and taking advantage of more local resources when it comes to parole and probation supervision, according to the Flathead Beacon.
Currently the state prison maintains a population of 1,465, and is quickly approaching its maximum rated capacity of 1,485. Meanwhile the Montana Women’s Prison in Billings has exceeded its operational capacity of 194 and currently houses 204 inmates on site. A number of the state’s prerelease and transitional centers are also holding more inmates than their rated capacity, or are nearly at capacity, and growth projections released in August 2013 show that nearly all state correctional facilities and prisons will exceed their rated capacity by 2015. Many of the state’s community based programs are also over extended.
Approaching the crowding issue from another angle, the state also launched the Montana Reentry Initiative in the summer of 2011 to improve and expand community reentry services. The initiative targets offenders at high risk of re-incarceration in hopes of reducing recidivism, saving taxpayer money and decreasing the demand for correctional beds.
The state is also reexamining the seven-member Board of Pardons and Parole, after claims that the board is partially responsible for slowing the reentry and restorative justice processes. The board has reportedly ordered inmates to complete classes and programs unrelated to their convictions, delaying their release and in turn contributing to prison crowding.
"Our overriding concern is public safety," Mike McKee, chair of the Board of Pardons and Parole, told the Great Falls Tribune in August 2014. "If we’re letting people out before their prison term expires, we want to be as assured as we can be that we are making the right decision."