MT State Prison Warden Kirkegard retiring this spring - KRTV News in Great Falls, Montana

MT State Prison Warden Kirkegard retiring this spring

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MT State Prison Warden Leroy Kirkegard MT State Prison Warden Leroy Kirkegard

The warden at the Montana State Prison, Leroy Kirkegard, is retiring in April, saying he wants to move back to Las Vegas to be closer to his family, which has added two grandchildren.

Kirkegard, 57, told MTN News Tuesday that his five-year stint as warden has been “the most challenging and frustrating job I ever had,” but that it’s been an honor to work with the “professional, dedicated group of people” on the prison staff.

Under Kirkegard, starting pay for correctional officers has risen from $11.57 an hour to just over $14 an hour, helping to fill long-standing vacancies and shortfalls in staff.

Kirkegard, originally from Circle, became warden in November 2011, after working for 19 years at the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas, where he served as its top administrator.

As warden at Montana State Prison, he’s been in charge of a 600-member staff and 1,500 inmates. He also oversees the state’s entire male prison system, which has more than 2,300 inmates housed in four facilities: The State Prison at Deer Lodge, regional prisons at Great Falls and Glendive and the privately run prison in Shelby.

Kirkegard said changes are needed for what’s an aging State Prison, but he realizes resources are never plentiful in Montana and that there are many other demands for tax dollars.

“I’ve said it for three legislative sessions – it’s an old facility and we’re going to have to make some changes at some point in time,” he said. The prison west of Deer Lodge was constructed in the 1970s.

He also said he hopes Montana follows the recommendations and plans laid out by the Commission on Sentencing, a group of lawmakers and experts created by the 2015 Legislature.

That path includes more community resources to help offenders stay out of prison, reducing the number of inmates held in county jails and leveling out the population at the prisons.

The 2017 Legislature is considering several bills recommended by the commission to help reduce the prison population in Montana.

Kirkegard has always said there are people in Montana’s prison system that don’t need to be there – but that there’s also probably some people within the system who should be in prison, but aren’t.

The state Department of Corrections is already considering applications for a new warden.

Agency spokeswoman Judy Beck said 36 people have applied for the job and that applications closed Jan. 29. A panel of agency officials, including Kirkegard, will decide on his successor, she said.

About Mike Dennison

MTN Chief Political Reporter Mike Dennison joined MTN News in August 2015 after a 23-year career as a newspaper reporter covering Montana politics and state government. While some may believe that politics are boring, Mike firmly believes that's not the case if you tell the story with pizzazz and let people know why the story is important.
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