Montana DOC Defends Decision To House Adults At Youth Facilities
The head of the Montana Department of Corrections defended his agency today after state auditors told a legislative committee that the department broke the law by housing adults at youth correctional facilities.
The Legislative Audit Committee heard that state law prohibits adults being housed at the Pine Hills and Riverside youth corrections facilities in Miles City and Boulder. The Department of Corrections started housing adults at the facilities earlier this year.
"My question is: What’s the downside? There’s just a lot of upside to what we decided to do. We helped out the jails, we helped out the department and we helped out the people in need of the care," said Corrections director Mike Batista.
Overcrowding at adult correctional facilities has pushed the Corrections department at least $2 million over budget, because it’s having to pay county jails to house prisoners. Many county jails in Montana are also full.
Batista and some audit committee members pointed out that in addition to laws forbidding his agency from housing adults at juvenile facilities, other statutes require it to efficiently use state resources. He said with only a handful of girls being housed at Riverside, it’s more cost-effective to put them in a private facility in St. Anthony, Idaho and move adults to Riverside.
"We’re looking at doing things as efficiently as possible. And we felt like this was the best option, and we felt like the statute that has the language where we are to maximize our resources for both adult and youth offenders made a lot of sense, from a good government perspective."
Batista said he’s hopeful that a sentencing reform package state lawmakers are expected to take up in 2017 will help remedy his department’s legal conundrum.
Senator Gene Vuckovich, an Anaconda Democrat who’s on the audit committee, said both the Department of Corrections and lawmakers need to take the auditors' findings seriously.
"My experience has been in running local government, and that if we got an audit report we’d better comply with the damn thing, or we’re in deep doo doo," said Vuckovich.
CORRECTIONS: A previous version of this story mis-identified the girls facility as Spring Creek, it is Riverside. It also said that the girls previous housed at Riverside were moved to a facility in Rexburg, Idaho, the facility is located in St. Anthony, Idaho. We regret the errors.