The Montana Department of Corrections will vacate the Great Falls Regional Prison by the end of June at the request of the Cascade County Sheriff, the department said in a release Friday.
The move opens up space in the 152-bed Great Falls Regional Prison for federal inmates who in Montana are held at a private prison near Shelby. In January, Democratic President Joe Biden issued an order for the U.S. Department of Justice to begin phasing out use of such private facilities. The state corrections department is now in negotiations to move those state inmates to the Crossroads Correctional Center near Shelby.
Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter said the shake-up would also create some elbow space at the facility in Great Falls, avoiding a public safety levy going to the voters to expand the jail.
"Cascade County would be pleased to help the U.S. Marshal Service by accepting a portion of their federal detainees who were being held in Shelby, at our facility," Slaughter said in a press release Friday. "Given that change, it seemed like a good time to approach the DOC about vacating our facility to allow for additional space to alleviate the overcrowding that has impacted public safety in the county.
"It's really a win-win and I appreciate the DOC working with us to make this happen," Slaughter added.
According to the release, Cascade County has agreed as part of the deal to settle its lawsuit against the Department of Corrections to recover per diem costs the county said were outstanding.
In an amendment that passed the Senate Finance and Claims Committee on a unanimous vote Thursday, lawmakers adjusted a budget companion bill to account for the change.
Sen. Ryan Lynch, a Butte Democrat who brought the amendment, said all parties have agreed to the change.
Sen. Ryan Osmundson, who chairs the committee, said the federal government decided to take some of their inmates out of Core Civic’s private prison in Shelby, so it opened up space there, and state inmates were moved from Great Falls to Shelby. That left an opening for federal inmates in Great Falls, he said.
Under an amendment pending for the state budget, the state would reduce its spending by $197,600 for the Cascade County regional prison but increase its spending by the same amount with Crossroads Correctional Center.
The Senate passed the bill Friday, sending it back to the House to concur with the amendment.
“Moving out of GFRP to Crossroads is really a win for inmates as well as state and county taxpayers,” DOC Director Brian Gootkin said in the press release. “CCC in Shelby has more extensive services related to recreation space, general education and vocational education classes, behavioral health services, and religious services, including an outdoor sweat facility for American Indian inmates. This would allow the DOC greater opportunity to give the inmates the skills they need to be successful when they return to our communities.”