View Full Version : Article:Review planned for prison in Montana

02-09-2004, 08:56 PM
Review planned for prison
By JENNIFER McKEE Missoulian State Bureau

Outside expert sought; deputy warden to be hired after string of suicides

HELENA - In an effort to stem a tide of recent inmate suicides at Montana State Prison, Corrections Director Bill Slaughter said Friday the agency is bringing in an outside expert for a top-to-bottom review of the prison and is immediately hiring a deputy warden.

"Right now, we're doing the best we know how," Slaughter said. "We want to do the best we can."

Since early July, four inmates at Montana State Prison have killed themselves. Most recently, death row inmate Rodney Sattler, 36, was found hanged in his cell on Feb. 2. Of the four deaths, two were on death row, one victim was housed in the regular prison and one was in a special wing for new arrivals.

Prior to those four deaths, no prisoner at the prison had killed himself since 1991.

Slaughter said he hoped to have the expert hired and at the prison in the next few weeks. He anticipates having a final report, along with recommendations for changes in training and prison policies, by the end of the month.

The expert will look at all parts of prison life, Slaughter said, including the physical design of cells, access to clergy, training and mental health care, as well as food, exercise and the overall emotional climate.

Slaughter said he wanted someone from outside the Montana penal system to examine operations and freely make recommendations.

"We think we're doing pretty well," Slaughter said. "We want an outside peer review to ask, 'Are we?' "

He said anticipates the expert will have some recommendations for the prison and those changes will be made immediately - probably by the end of February.

Prison Warden Mike Mahoney has been without a deputy warden for more than year. Slaughter said the warden's job has since become more complicated as the inmate population has grown. Mahoney's job now also includes managing contracts with the state's private and regional prisons. A deputy warden would help defray the workload of running the 1,350-man prison.

Slaughter said he has been disturbed by sentiments of "Who cares?" after two inmates on death row committed suicide.

"I don't want anyone to think that's how we do business," he said. "We have a responsibility to keep these people in good health. We do care."

Prison spokeswoman Linda Moodry said the suicides have been hard on the staff and inmates.

"Any outside assistance for a review of prison operations is only beneficial to us, can help us improve what we might not see," she said.

Slaughter also said that while every prison suicide is a "critical incident" to the agency, prison officers and staff face obvious struggles in trying to maintain the will to live in a man who is sentenced to die.