Rehberg to Schweitzer: Take a Closer Look at Hardin Jail

By Beacon Staff

This week, Congressman Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., belatedly entered the Hardin jail fray. He sent a letter to Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, asking that he reconsider housing state inmates at the facility in response to Department of Corrections Advisory Panel’s recent recommendation that the state needs 920 additional prison beds.

Montana officials have been reluctant to use the Hardin jail, however, because of its dormitory-style housing; the state standard is to allow a maximum of just two people per cell.

Rehberg writes: “I believe it’s time for a closer look at Hardin as a viable answer to the long term needs of the Montana Department of Corrections.”

The Hardin jail was built as an economic engine for that city and has been desperate for prisoners since its completion. It recently made news when it offered to house Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Here’s entire letter from Rehberg to Schweitzer:

Dear Governor Schweitzer:

With the recent decision by Montana’s Corrections Advisory Council to endorse a plan for 920 new prison beds in our state it is becoming apparent that our prison population will be growing beyond current capacity. Further compounding this problem is a concern that the state will not have the funding necessary to construct these beds. As advisory council member Eve Franklin stated, “With all the good intentions, we can’t afford it. There will be no money in the budget.” As you are aware, a 464 bed detention facility currently sits empty in Hardin. I respectfully request the consideration of the Hardin facility as a potential piece of the solution to our state’s upcoming corrections capacity challenges.

To date, the Two Rivers Detention Center has attempted to fill its facility a variety of ways including with both in-state and out-of-state prisoners, federal prisoners, and even terrorists from the Guantanamo Bay Detention camp. In a March 24, 2008 letter to folks in the Hardin community regarding the potential for housing Montana Department of Corrections inmates in Hardin, you stated, “we do not have the prisoners to send to the facility.” The recommendation this week from the Corrections Advisory Council, that a future need for prison beds will soon exist, appears to be at odds with your statement. I believe it’s time for a closer look at Hardin as a viable answer to the long term needs of the Montana Department of Corrections.

I ask that your administration take a strong look toward the Hardin facility as you seek solutions for our state’s long term corrections needs. If I can be of any assistance with this challenge, my office stands ready to help.

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