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HELENA - Corrections officials intend to triple the size of a proposed meth treatment prison authorized by the 2005 Legislature.
Joe Williams, administrator of Corrections' Centralized Services Bureau, said Tuesday that the agency is looking for a private contractor to build a 120-bed lockdown meth treatment center that could be open as early as next fall.
"Treatment is the way to go," Williams said. "It can work if you have the right model."
Prison watchers such as the American Civil Liberties Union praised the move, while the clinical director for Billings' Rimrock Foundation, one of the state's largest drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, called the expansion a mistake that will only expand the empire of one of Corrections' main contracting companies.
The 2005 Legislature gave Corrections the freedom but not the money to contract for some kind of meth treatment prison. Lawmakers suggested a 40-bed facility.
But Williams said meth plays such a strong role in filling up Montana's prisons and overworking its probation and parole officers that the agency decided to ramp up the meth treatment prison. Plus, meth addiction hit home with the agency late last month when a Billings probationer addicted to meth exchanged gunfire with his longtime probation officers and several Billings police officers.
Justin Toland, 25, was shot in the chest and died. Before getting hooked on meth, Toland had been "a success story for us," Williams said.
"That was a clarifying moment," he said.
Money for the prison will come out of the beefed-up budget allocated for regional prisons and counties who hold state inmates in county jails.
Williams said he's envisioning a nine-month lockdown treatment program, followed by six months in a pre-release center and counseling after pre-release to keep convicts from getting addicted again. The program will have room for 80 men and 40 women.
Exactly how much the center will cost will depend on the proposals the agency receives, Williams said.
"We need to stop the cycle of meth abuse," he said.
Scott Crichton, executive director of the ACLU of Montana, praised the decision but said real success will depend on what kind of treatment program wins the bid.
"I think it's good news to see that the state is talking about more treatment for drug addiction," he said. "We probably could have been well-served to come up with such a solution earlier, but you take it when it happens."
Mona Sumner, clinical director and one of the founders of Rimrock Foundation, said the money would be better spent on projects like drug court rather than expanding the commercial empire of Corrections and its contractors.
"The Department of Corrections should stop trying to be a treatment center," she said. "They don't have a clue what treatment is. I think it's another way to spend more dollars on prison beds under the guise of treatment.
And she said she doesn't think the typical prison system contractors are doing a good job.
"The ones we get in here for after-care don't make it," she said.
Sumner didn't advocate doing away with treatment but said the state should expand drug courts, such as the one in Yellowstone County, which offers extensive rehabilitation and life skills training to keep addicts out of the prison system. She also said Montana needs to spend more money on treatment before people end up in any part of the criminal justice system.
"Nobody wants to give us the money to provide the treatment at the community level," she said.
Williams encouraged Rimrock Foundation to submit a bid to run the proposed new meth prison.
"We'd be more than happy to see a bid from them," he said. "Off the top of my head, I don't recall seeing many, if any, proposals from them."