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Montana to transfer more than 100 inmates to a private prison in Arizona

Cynthia Wolken speaks to the Law and Justice Interim Committee on Wednesday, November 15.
Courtesy of Montana Public Affairs Network
Cynthia Wolken speaks to the Law and Justice Interim Committee on Wednesday, November 15.

Montana is sending inmates to a privately-run prison in southern Arizona, starting with 30 people who left Tuesday, November 14. The contract is aimed at addressing overcrowding at state facilities and drew criticism from Democrats who expressed concern about oversight.

Montana Department of Corrections Deputy Director Cynthia Wolken told lawmakers on the Law and Justice Interim Committee Wednesday, November 15 that the agency will send a total of 120 male prisoners to CoreCivic’s Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona.

CoreCivic is a Tennessee-based company that runs a private prison in northern Montana and many others across the country. According to company filings, its Arizona facility has a 1,896-bed capacity, and the population includes 875 inmates from Hawaii and nearly 600 from Idaho.

“This is alleviating some of the facilities like Montana State Prison that are at capacity, some of the jail holds,” Wolken told lawmakers this week. “So, it’s allowing us to have a little more breathing room and take people who are currently in facilities and put them in this new capacity.”

State data show Montana State Prison holds more than 1,500 inmates and is over capacity by around 40 people.

Lawmakers this year passed legislation to build more space at Montana State Prison and also passed funding for the 120 out-of-state beds at nearly $4 million dollars annually, with some pushback.

In a news release following the contract announcement this week, two Democratic congressmen on the Law and Justice Interim Committee said Montana will be “sending that money out-of-state to a private corporation with little to no oversight.”

The Montana Department of Corrections said in a news release Thursday that the state will make sure treatment resources and other programs for inmates at CoreCivic’s Arizona facility are comparable to ones in Montana.

YPR submitted a request for comment. A spokesperson says the department is not providing interviews on the subject.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.