HELENA – The economic development agency behind the private jail in Hardin has put its executive director on leave but claims the move will not interfere with a controversial contract given to a private security company.
The group also said it is still moving ahead quickly with the California company to operate the facility — even though neither group has contracts in place for prisoners, or promises it can get any.
Al Peterson, board member of the Two Rivers Authority, said executive Greg Smith was placed on leave last Friday. But he said that does not have any bearing on plans to lease the facility to a security company named American Police Force.
Peterson, board vice president, declined to comment on whether Smith will return to work.
“All I can say is that Greg has been put on paid administrative leave, so no decision has been made,” Peterson said.
Smith was placed on leave just days after the economic development agency announced the 10-year contract that could fill the $27 million, 464-bed jail, which has sat empty since 2007.
Peterson said things are moving quickly with American Police Force. He said the company will be in Hardin starting next week to start building its training facility, which Peterson expects will be running this fall.
Peterson said there are no contracts in place for prisoners.
He said American Police Force will now be in the role of seeking state federal or local contracts for prisoners. He also noted, contrary to rumors, the contract only allows low- or medium-risk prisoners from the United States. The board retains final approval on prisoner contracts, Peterson said.
“The American Police Force is going to look for contracts for us for prisoners. They are saying they are going to have some in by January,” Peterson said.
The new spokesman for the authority says the jail operation is running very low on money. The contract turns over ongoing operational issues on the jail over to American Police Force.
The private security company, also tightlipped about the deal, does not show up in existing government contract databases. Security industry representatives and federal officials said they have never heard of it.
Peterson said the firm was gong to use the jail grounds to develop a training center. Retired police officers and former military personnel would be retrained for “international work.”
“These people will be able to go out and assist with everything from airline security around the world, to cruise ship security, and other things. They will be even going to foreign governments and telling them how to help set up their military,” Peterson said. “This is the real deal. When we break some ground and people can see something going on, they will begin to understand what is happening here.”
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