All 258 Montana inmates housed in a private Texas prison will be moved to Corrections Corporation of America prisons in Arizona and Tennessee in the next two months, corrections officials said Tuesday.
The decision marks the end of a rocky relationship between the state and the Bobby Ross Group, operators of the Dickens County Correctional Center at Spur, Texas. Montana inmates have been held there for the past 15 months.
“Montana was not getting the services that we were paying for under the contract,” Corrections Director Rick Day said in announcing cancellation of the state’s $3.6 million-a-year contract with the company.
At the same time, Day signed a contract to transfer up to 125 inmates to a Corrections Corp. prison in Arizona. Last month, the state signed an agreement to send up to 450 inmates to one of the company’s prisons near Memphis, Tenn.
The first 40 inmates will be moved from Montana to Tennessee by the end of September, Day said.
Tony Schaffer, attorney for the Bobby Ross Group, said the state’s action was expected.
“It seems to me that this pattern has been coming for some period of time,” he said, complaining about a lack of communication between the company and Montana corrections leaders.
“We really dislike losing a customer. We’ve tried to please our customer,” Schaffer said.
Tuesday’s moves are the Racicot administration’s latest efforts to cope with a chronic overflow of inmates in Montana’s prison system by relying on out-of-state cells.
Montana’s first venture was the Texas contract. But state officials were unhappy for months with conditions at the Dickens County prison.
A Montana inmate was killed in a fight four months ago, another disturbance last year had to be stopped with warning shots from guards, and three Montana prisoners have escaped.
Inspections by Montana officials disclosed persistent problems with the food service, security and medical care for inmates.
The Bobby Ross Group responded last week by denying many of the allegations made by inspection teams, but promised to work with the state to improve operations.
“What we see is a pattern of some partial fixes,” Day said. “In some cases it did appear that there was a tendency to dispute rather than address positively the corrections.”
He said the Texas prison served its purpose as a temporary solution and was the only facility with the room Montana needed last year. However, the prison is designed for short-term custody, not the long-term lockup that the state believes it needs, Day said.
By early next year, Montana will be able to keep 575 inmates out of state and another 152 in the Cascade County regional prison expected to open in January, he said.