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Private Prison Offers $30 Million Bailout For Montana's Budget Woes

Jackie Yamanaka
Montana is facing a $227 million revenue shortfall.

Montana’s only private prison has allegedly offered a $30 million dollar bailout to help the state with its budget woes. However, there's a catch.

In order to receive the $30 million dollars from CoreCivic, the company that owns the prison, the Bullock administration would need to extend that company’s contract for another ten years.

“It’s kind of an offer, an idea in the air,” says Senate Finance and Claims Committee Chairman Llew Jones, a Republican from Conrad.

Crossroads Correctional Center is in his district, and as a legislator, he received a copy of this proposal.

“This is a potential that doesn’t raise somebody’s taxes," he says. "It potentially does not require someone be cut. So hopefully this will be part of the negotiation going forward.”

For the past two decades, the state’s been planning to buy out the prison by putting money into a fund controlled by CoreCivic. The $30 million dollar bailout would come from that fund.

However, Governor Steve Bullock seems uninterested.

In a statement,  spokesperson Ronja Abel says "the Governor is focused on how we find a balanced solution to this problem, not obligating the State to a multi-million, ten year contract.”

She also says CoreCivic has not offered any formal proposal yet. Bullock has indicated he may want the state to purchase the private prison when the current contract ends in 2019.

But Jones says waiting until 2019 is waiting too long.

“Would we be better off today taking the $30 million as a cut from our public schools?" he says. "Or maybe another $30 million cut from our Health and Human Services that have already been so severely impacted. What is it that we’re going to replace this with? And if it’s available today, to delay it to me seems an inappropriate approach.”

But extending the contract for another decade has raised eyebrows. In 2008, the ACLU investigatedCrossroads Correctional Center after the Montana Department of Corrections received complaints of abuse from Native American inmates.

SK Rossi, director of advocacy and policy at ACLU Montana, says the private prison’s offer is disturbing.

“I don’t think that any corporation should be offering financial incentives to the state in order to renew a contract that is ten years long for a corporation that is part of an industry that has been shown time and time again to have serious problems when it comes to human rights, civil liberties and care of people who are incarcerated," she says.

In an emailed statement, CoreCivic spokesperson Jonathan Burns refused to comment on whether the company made an offer to the Bullock administration. But he says “we are aware of budget challenges in Montana and we’re willing to engage with our partner on potential solutions.”

The $30 million offer would cover about 13 percent of the revenue shortfall.