View Full Version : Article: Montana paying dearly for drug addictions

09-24-2004, 08:38 PM
Gazette opinion: Montana paying dearly for drug addictions

Montana has expanded its prisons. In Billings, the Yellowstone County jail holds more than 370 inmates on any given day - 100 more than the intended capacity of the facility.

One might expect that the jail and prisons are teeming with ever greater numbers of murderers and other violent criminals. But, in fact, we're paying to lock up more thieves and drug addicts.

In 2003, the No. 1 offense that sent women to prison was possession of dangerous drugs, according to Department of Corrections Director Bill Slaughter. The second most common offense among female inmates was theft, followed by forgery and bad checks. Often, those offenses are committed to support their drug habits, Slaughter said.

The No. 1 crime that puts men in Montana State Prison is theft, followed by burglary, possession of dangerous drugs, sale of dangerous drugs and felony DUI, Slaughter said. As with female offenders, the mens' burglary and theft offenses often are related to getting money for drugs.

Fueling recidivism

Recidivism is a huge problem, which is fueled by continued abuse of alcohol and other drugs when people are released from prison. Forty-seven percent of male prisoners are at MSP because they failed to abide by their probation or parole conditions or committed new offenses, Slaughter said.

Sheriff Chuck Maxwell recognizes that many repeat offenders are addicted to alcohol and other drugs. More than 75 percent of Yellowstone County inmates had alcohol or other drugs in their system upon booking, according to a survey two years ago.

That's why Maxwell has been talking with Rimrock Foundation about a possible jail diversion program that could provide addiction treatment. Rimrock has proposed construction of a secure treatment facility adjoining the jail. It would be an alternative that courts in Yellowstone County could use.

The discussion with Rimrock is "very preliminary," Maxwell said, adding: "I think we need to take a serious look at this." It costs Yellowstone County taxpayers nearly $60 a day for each inmate locked up.

Balanced approach

"The methamphetamine problem has really created crime issues in law enforcement, especially over the last eight to 10 years," Maxwell said. "As hard as we work on drug enforcement, there has to be a balance with education and enough treatment - a more balanced approach than putting all our resources into enforcement."

The Montana Department of Corrections has been working with people in Glendive to develop a treatment program to serve female felony DUI convicts at the former Eastmont facility. Male felony DUI convicts would continue to be treated at Warm Springs.

Slaughter also wants to develop a 40-bed meth treatment facility for state inmates. He knows the need exists. But, as he said, "it's going to be a tough budget year."

Paying for public safety will challenge Montana's 2005 Legislature and our next governor. To the question "can we afford treatment?" the answer is we can't afford to let this cycle of addiction and incarceration continue