By Phil Drake
HELENA — The Department of Corrections said Tuesday it opened a chemical dependency treatment program at Montana State Prison, a move that may bring change to a Great Falls facility that helps criminal offenders be returned to society with a new program that helps veterans who have had encounters with the law.
The Montana State Correctional Treatment Center in Deer Lodge accepted its first 30 inmates, DOC Director Reginald D. Michael said.
The secure, remodeled facility formerly housed the Treasure State “boot camp” program and now provides a 90- to 180-day intensive chemical dependency treatment program for prison inmates approaching their release dates.
“It’s critical that we create opportunities for people to stop coming back to prison,” Michael said in a news release. “By helping inmates develop responsible thinking, become more accountable and learn the skills they need to overcome addiction, this new program will give offenders a real opportunity to take their lives in a more positive direction.”
The boot camp fed into an aftercare program in Great Falls that helped inmates transition back into society. That program would be discontinued as the boot camps halted. DOC officials said at the time their program in Great Falls would be replaced with something else.
Paul R. Cory, executive director of the Great Falls Pre-Release Services Inc., said Tuesday the state has approached the transition center about starting a program for veterans that is still in preliminary discussions.
“There is no model to look at so we are developing it from the ground up,” he said.
Cory said the participants are described as “justice-involved veterans who are serving time in one way or another and had encounters with the legal system.”
“We are enthused to look at something new and different,” Cory said. “It’s not a reality yet. When it is a reality, it will be fun to see it developed.”
Great Falls elected officials unsuccessfully argued against the measure tucked inside House Bill 650, a general appropriations bill, to close the boot camp program, saying the nonprofit Great Falls Pre-Release Services Inc. had offered an aftercare program with the “booters” for nearly 23 years.
HB 650 repealed the statutory requirement that the DOC operate a correctional boot camp program.
Great Falls Sens. Brian Hoven, a Republican, and Democrat Carlie Boland said the move had not been properly vetted.
Hoven said Tuesday he was still angry his colleagues killed the boot camp program.
“I think that that program got scotched without any hard data,” he said.