Montana State Prison Seeing Growing Population

The Butte-Silver Bow Detention Center has averaged about 20 inmates awaiting placement

By Associated Press

BUTTE – State officials are exploring options to ease the growing prison population at the Montana State Prison.

Leroy Kirkegard, warden at the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge, said a few months ago, the prison had over 100 offenders awaiting a cell at the prison. Another 300 were on waiting lists for other Montana Department of Corrections facilities.

“It’s a problem across the state,” Kirkegard said.

The prison has had to contract inmate beds at the private corrections facility in Shelby and to the county jails statewide.

For instance, the Butte-Silver Bow Detention Center has averaged about 20 inmates awaiting placement at the state prison or another state facility this year, said Mark Johnson, jail supervisor.

In the past, the prison started to triple bunk inmates. Nearly all of the cells are now doubles. Another option used previously was shipping inmates to other state prisons. Kirkegard said he will do his best to keep either of those from repeating.

“We’ll find room for them somewhere,” he told The Montana Standard.

The prison’s average population is 1,450. It is designated to maintain a population of 1,495.

Kirkegard is working to launch a dramatic restructuring of the way Montana deals with inmates following an assessment from consultants. The initiative would involve more collaborative efforts between state, local and nonprofit agencies and use of local resources in communities under the supervision of probation and parole.

“That’s what this focus will be. MSP offers a lot of programs, but it’s still prison,” Kirkegard said. “Inside, we’re limited.”

Mike Thatcher, chief executive officer for Butte-based Community Counseling and Correctional Services, which runs treatment and incarceration programs, said he supports much of the initiative.

But many community-based programs are already at capacity or running over as well, Thatcher said.

“Hopefully the shift isn’t that we overwhelm our community resources as well,” he said.