Riverside Youth Correctional Facility is a Spartan place.
Inside, the reform school for girls in trouble with the law looks more like a prison than the state prison itself.
The institution fills two brick buildings that were used as cottages for patients at the Montana Developmental Center before it consolidated its campus on the other side of the Boulder River.
One building houses administration offices and classrooms. The other has 12 bedroom cells and staff offices for guarding the girls.
The rooms are bare, except for a bunk and two sets of shelves built in to opposite corners of the room. That’s it.
No radios, tape players, TVs or personal belongings. The girls wear uniforms and are allowed to display one photograph only if they behave.
Superintendent Jim Bauch, who also was superintendent at Mountain View School for girls before it closed in 1995, said that was a softer place where rules were more relaxed and amenities were commonplace.
Riverside, he said, is designed to be a place to which no girl will want to return.
All outside and cell doors are locked. The windows are laced with freshly painted white bars.
Meals come from the nearby developmental center.
There’s no small, lightweight furniture or loose fixtures that girls can use as weapons. Bauch said that more than boys, girls are more likely to do things to hurt themselves instead of hurting staff.
Although a chain-link fence surrounds a large piece of property where the school operates, there are no gates, barbed wire or guards. That will change in the next year when a more secure fence is erected. Plans also call for adding a gymnasium.
For now, intensive staff supervision 24 hours a day keeps the girls in check, Bauch said. “The staff know where the kids are at all times. There’s enough staff to know if someone tries to escape.”
Riverside accepts girls between 10 and 17 years old. Girls that turn 18 while there are released unless court orders require they serve additional time in the women’s state prison.
The most common crimes that land a girl in reform school are burglary, car theft, robbery and assault. Stays at the school range from two to 12 months at a time.
The school does not accept severely emotionally disturbed girls with criminal records.
Girls at Riverside attend classes in English, math, social studies and science from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. They also learn life skills, such as balancing a checkbook and looking for a job. Evenings include counseling sessions.