Hardin Wants to be New Gitmo; Senators Say No

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – Hardin officials say they want to fill the city’s vacant jail with the prisoners now housed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but Montana’s U.S. senators oppose the idea.

The development authority in Hardin, a rural outpost of 3,400 people bordering the Crow Indian Reservation, built the $27 million, 460-bed jail two years ago. The plan was to run the jail privately and contract with outside jurisdictions for prisoners.

With the jail still empty and its construction loans in default, the City Council says it could be used to house Guantanamo’s 240 terror suspects while they await trial. The council passed a resolution supporting the proposal on a 5-0 vote on Tuesday.

“Somebody has to stand up and put (the Guantanamo prisoners) in their backyards. It’s our patriotic duty,” said Greg Smith, director of the city’s Two Rivers Authority.

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Max Baucus says the Democrat opposes the attempt.

“This proposal isn’t going to fly with Max Baucus,” said spokesman Barrett Kaiser. He said the senator understands that filling the jail could provide jobs, but “bringing terrorists into Montana is a bad idea.”

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester also said he opposed the proposal.

“But I’ll support other efforts to find a viable use for the Two Rivers facility,” Tester, a Democrat, said in a statement.

Smith and other Hardin officials have been looking for tenants for the jail since its completion in the summer of 2007.

Attempts to land contracts with the federal Bureau of Prisons and Montana Department of Corrections have been rejected. The city has sent out marketing packages to all 50 states, and the jail has hosted visits by prison officials from Colorado, Wyoming and other jurisdictions.

Smith said the city’s chances of getting the Guantanamo prisoners were slim, but added that detaining them was not that different from handling any other kind of prisoner.

“You have hardened criminals in jail all around the state, you have sexual offenders. When they’re in jail, they’re not a whole lot different,” he said.

Hardin Council President Harry Steinmetz referred questions on the issue to Smith.

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