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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Audit: Corrections Should Analyze Treatment Effectiveness

A screen capture of the Montana Department of Corrections website, June 15, 2020.

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The state Department of Corrections should collect and analyze more data to compare the effectiveness of state and private prisons, to more efficiently place and transfer inmates among facilities and to ensure offenders are matched with the appropriate community corrections services to help reduce their likelihood of re-offending, two state audits recommended.

Corrections Director Reginald D. Michael agreed with most of the recommendations, but said his agency will need more staff and money to perform the work.

The Legislative Audit Division recently released audits that looked at whether placement at a contracted prison negatively affected an inmate's likelihood of re-offending and whether community corrections programs helped reduce recidivism. The results are on the Legislative Audit Committee's agenda on Tuesday.

Prison placement doesn't seem to affect the rate of re-offense, auditors said, but the education and treatment programs vary considerably among facilities. They recommend the department regularly compare the conditions at the prisons.

The state spends $44 million a year on community corrections programs including assessment and sanction centers, prerelease centers that provide career and life skills instruction, and other programming, such as substance abuse treatment. Auditors estimated that such programs reduced the risk of violations and a return to prison by 14%, but said there may be ways to use the money more efficiently.

“The department needs to better ensure community corrections programs are focused on offenders with the highest risk and clinical need to most effectively reduce recidivism,” auditors wrote.

The Department of Corrections is revising its policies and procedures to determine offender placement and is working on creating a way for related data to be included in the department’s offender management information system, Michaels said in his response.

The department plans to ask for more full-time employees to monitor conditions at the contracted prisons, to evaluate community corrections contractors and follow up on any requested improvements, Michael said. The Program and Facilities Bureau has the equivalent of 7.5 full-time employees, including four who monitor the contracts with 17 programs, he said.

The Department of Corrections should also improve its information management system to better identify inmates that can be transferred to other facilities to avoid wasting resources and disrupting rehabilitation efforts, auditors said.

There are many modules that need to be added to the agency's computer system to comply with laws and meet other requirements, “while at the same time the department has received no new resource allocations for the substantial additional (data management) requirements across the corrections system,” Michael responded. The department will prioritize the creation of this module, but added it may take time because modules can take years to define, build and refine, he said.

The audits also criticized the agency for not having standards by which to evaluate the performance of community corrections contractors and for paying $400,000 for empty beds at long-term methamphetamine treatment facilities.

Michael agreed the agency needed evaluation standards, but said changes in legislation and national correctional best practices led to fewer referrals to nine-month meth treatment programs. Shorter-term treatment programs were tried first, the agency said, but it was still obligated to fulfill its contracts.

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