County approves state exit from jail

Updated May 18 with information from Gov. Greg Gianforte’s office about whether he’d signed the bill.

Cascade County Commissioners voted unanimously during their May 11 meeting to drop their lawsuit against the Montana Department of Corrections and modify the agreement with the state for the state to vacate its half of the county detention facility.

The county is terminating its contract with DoC that requires the county to house 150 state inmates who have been sentenced to the state prison system.

County Commission to consider several items related to removing state prisoners from county jail

a bill including a provision allowing the state to discontinue the use of the Cascade County prison was approved by the Montana Legislature and is awaiting Gov. Greg Gianforte’s signature. If he signs it, which county officials anticipate, it will allow the county and state to end their contact and the state will move those prisoners to the prison in Shelby, which is operated by CoreCivic.

During the commission meeting, a DoC employee said the governor had signed the bill on April 30, but according to the Montana Legislature website, the bill wasn’t transmitted to the governor until May 4.

On May 13, a spokeswoman for Gianforte said, the governor is carefully reviewing HB 693.”

On May 14, Gianforte signed the bill and it was transmitted to the Montana Secretary of State, according to the governor’s office.

County, state working to shift state prisoners to Shelby, federal inmates to Great Falls

Undersheriff Cory Reeves said that once all the documents have been signed, the state will soon begin moving inmates out of the county facility to Shelby, but for security reasons said he didn’t want to discuss specifics during the public meeting.

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Sheriff Jesse Slaughter said that he requested the state to vacate the county facility by June 30 to comply with a January executive order from President Biden directing the U.S. Department of Justice not to renew contracts with privately operated prisons. That would move 152 state inmates out of Great Falls.

Part of the deal is that the county will drop its lawsuit against the DoC filed in 2019 over a reimbursement dispute in which the county argues that the state owes the county more than $766,599 for room and board of people serving a DOC sentence at the Cascade County facility.

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If Gianforte signs the bill, the state prisoners housed in Cascade County would be transferred to Shelby, freeing up about 100 beds for county inmates, and a portion of the federal inmates housed at Shelby would be transferred to Great Falls to make up for some of the lost revenue from the state contract, which is about $4 million annually.

There are a number of moving parts with this arrangement, but in the end, the county will have to pay the state about $1.5 million, Reeves told commissioners during their May 5 work session. But if the county were to simply exit its existing contract with the state, the county would have owed the state about $4.8 million, Reeves said. Some of that fee is related to the state’s $2 million contribution to the construction of the facility, Commissioner Joe Briggs said during the May 11 meeting.

“It’s a great deal for us,” Reeves said during the May 11 meeting.

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Transferring the state prisoners out of the county facility and ending the contract with the state means the county will wholly own the facility without any overarching reimbursement requirements from the state, which has been the arrangement since the facility was built, according to the county attorney’s office.

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Commissioners approved an agreement that set the reimbursement rate for holding state inmates temporarily who are awaiting transfer to other DoC facilities at $$69.63 per offender per day from July 1 through June 30, 2023.

Reeves said during the May 5 work session that he disagreed with that rate but it’s out of their control since it’s set by the Legislature.

Reeves said the agreement doesn’t set time limits for how long the state can hold an inmate at the county jail but since that was another point of contention, and litigation, last year between the county and DoC, he said the state has reduced the number of holds and been moving them more quickly lately.

He said that as of May 5 there are 11 DoC holds compared to the 30-40 that had been sitting for longer periods of time previously from DoC.