GREAT FALLS — The Montana Department of Corrections (DOC) has agreed to a request by Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter to vacate the Great Falls Regional Prison (GFRP) by June 30, 2021.
Slaughter made the request following President Joseph Biden’s recent order for the U.S. Department of Justice to phase out its contracts with private prison companies, including CoreCivic, which owns and operates Crossroads Correctional Facility in Shelby.
“Cascade County would be pleased to help the U.S. Marshals Service by accepting a portion of their federal detainees who were being held in Shelby, at our facility,” Slaughter said. “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. This allows us to avoid going to county taxpayers to ask for a levy to expand the jail, and ensures we can keep people who pose a danger to our community locked up. It’s really a win-win and I appreciate the DOC working with us to make this happen.”
As part of Slaughter’s request, Cascade County agreed to settle its ongoing litigation with the DOC related to reimbursement rates set by the Montana Legislature for the GFRP and Cascade County Detention Center.
In order for the DOC to vacate the 152-bed GFRP, the department requires additional beds at another facility. The DOC is in negotiations with CoreCivic to increase its number of offender beds in Shelby by up to 152.
“Moving out of GFRP to Crossroads is really a win for inmates as well as state and county taxpayers,” DOC Director Brian Gootkin said. “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.”
Montana lawmakers tentatively approved the DOC’s request to vacate GFRP on Thursday by amending HB 693 to grant consent for the DOC to discontinue its use of the GFRP. The legislation will need to be approved by both chambers.
The detention center was built in 1998 at a cost of $25 million. Since opening, it has booked in more than 112,000 inmates. It has more than 370 beds, but routinely has more than 420 inmates, meaning some prisoners are sometimes left to sleep on the floor.
The facility is funded through the county budget, but also gets $69 a day for each of the more than 150 state prison inmates incarcerated there. Money also comes from housing federal prisoners, a practice stemming from the fact that Great Falls has a Federal Courthouse and a major airport.