View Full Version : Article:Proposed drug treatment facility for convicted felons

09-13-2003, 10:38 AM
State move to close institution, house felons draws fire from locals
Posted at 10:50 a.m., September 10
By BECKY BOHRER Associated Press Writer

GLENDIVE (AP) - Residents of this small Montana city knew it was inevitable the state-run center for the developmentally disabled would eventually close. With the state facing massive budget shortfalls this year, the writing was on the wall.

But what they didn't expect, and haven't quite decided whether to support, is the state's plan to turn the soon-to-be-empty building into a drug treatment center for convicted felons. Many residents say they want a treatment facility in town because it will restore at least some of the 100 jobs being lost when the Eastmont Human Services Center closes.

But they want it on their terms.

"I don't feel good about having a corrections facility in my backyard," Shawna Dorwart said as she looked out her back window _ past her children playing in the yard _ at the sprawling campus across the street. "But I know Glendive needs the jobs."

Lawmakers know that, too.

During the 2003 Legislature, they said shutting down the center, one of the city's biggest employers and a fixture for more than 30 years, was a difficult but necessary decision to avoid deeper cuts in other human service programs and to help erase a $232 million state budget deficit.

The center was home to 29 developmentally disabled residents. By year's end, when the building is turned over to the Department of Corrections, the last of them will be in the Montana Developmental Center at Boulder or in two group homes being established in Glendive.

Sen. John Cobb, a key player in setting budgets and policies for human service programs, said he and others thought they were doing some good for Glendive by letting it have first crack at the chemical dependency program and the 25 or so jobs that would go with it.

"The issue was, 'We know we're wrecking the economy, but we have to make tough choices and we want to give you something back,'" said the Augusta Republican.

"We hoped a corrections program would be part of the package," he added. "But you can't force it on people if they don't want it."

Residents need to decide soon if they want the short-term drug treatment facility in the middle-class neighborhood that grew up around Eastmont.

The campus includes several buildings _ including a cottage now leased to the Boys and Girls Club _ and resembles a nursing home.

Corrections officials say Eastmont is their first and most economical site for a treatment program. However, if the community doesn't want it there, officials may take the program _ and its jobs _ elsewhere.

"The only reason we're even turning an eye to Glendive, other than the work force, is the turnkey facility," said Joe Williams, an administrator with Montana's Department of Corrections. "It's just cheapest for us with the Eastmont building."

Glendive Mayor Jerry Jimison said corrections officials led local leaders to believe they could offer an alternative location for the treatment center.

But the site they picked _ an about-to-be vacated office building near downtown _ was all but dismissed by corrections officials who said it would need extensive and costly renovations to house the planned 40-bed program.

"It's like they're holding a gun to your head," Jimison said. "Our biggest concern is that they are looking for an excuse not to have to locate it in Glendive."

But corrections officials haven't given up on Glendive or Eastmont. They've asked the community to put together a small group of residents to consider the state's proposal, view the state's other community-based treatment program in Butte and offer recommendations.

Ideally, corrections officials would like the chemical dependency program in place by next July. But that won't happen if residents oppose its placement at Eastmont, said Mike Ferriter, administrator of the department's community corrections division.

"We do have a chance to make this work," Ferriter said. "But if there continues to be this concern about people running loose and residents are convinced it's going to be unsafe then, no. I'm not optimistic."

Nearly 1,130 offenders have passed through the 30-bed chemical dependency program in Butte since it opened in 1998.

Williams said a second program is needed to better move offenders through the corrections system and put them in the most appropriate setting. Officials said there are about 120 offenders in prison now on a waiting list for the Butte program.

Don Kettner, president of the local Economic Development Council in Glendive, said he's comfortable with having a chemical dependency program at Eastmont. He and Jimison say those nervous about the idea are in the minority.

Without replacing at least some of the 100 jobs that will be lost, Glendive, which is trying to recover from years of low farm prices and little oil activity by recruiting small businesses, will face a "serious" situation, Kettner said.

"I think people may be reading more into the facility than there really is. But anytime you attach `corrections' to anything, people get anxious," Kettner said.

Eastmont has been a part of Glendive for over 30 years. It was common to see the center's residents in the neighborhood on a stroll with their caregivers or at a ball game at the local community college.

For years, lawmakers made repeated warnings that they may close Eastmont, which hasn't admitted any new residents in four years, said Superintendent Sylvia Hammer. Talk at the Capitol was spurred both by the desire to save the state money and the need to move residents out of institutions and into group homes.

Legislators finally decided last spring to close Eastmont and move most of its residents _ many wheelchair-bound and profoundly developmentally disabled _ across the state to Boulder.

Eight Eastmont residents will stay in Glendive and go to one of two group homes now being built.

"I know none of us are happy about this happening but there's nothing we can do," said Hammer, who was at Eastmont for 29 years and plans to leave Glendive once it closes. "It's out of our hands. We fought the good fight."

Eastmont's closure is a hot topic in Glendive, where many of the city's 4,700 residents admit to mixed emotions.

Dorwart fought back tears and hard feelings as her younger daughter played in her yard.

"It's very difficult to think she's going to be playing out here with criminals nearby," Dorwart said.

Carole Dick, who lives nearby, said she'd hate to see the main Eastmont building empty, but isn't sure she wants a drug program there either. She's thought about selling her house.

Mayor Jimison said he hopes that, somehow, somewhere, the chemical dependency program can stay in Glendive.

"We want it here!" he said. "We want it."