Governor Bullock today yielded to the private prison industry, extending Montana’s contract with CoreCivic. As a result, 540 Montanans will continue to be warehoused in the Crossroads Correctional Center in Shelby, Montana. The State of Montana has now committed to pour millions of taxpayer dollars into an industry that disregards constitutional rights, treats human beings as financial assets, and understaffs their facilities.
Because of this pattern of practices, rampant violence and staffdeaths are now synonymous with the CoreCivic brand. The contract is an enormous step backward for criminal justice reform in Montana.
“Governor Bullock has a responsibility to divest Montana from private prisons. Time and time again, CoreCivic has proven that their only interest is making money off the backs of incarcerated people and, more recently, detained immigrants,” said Caitlin Borgmann, Executive Director. “Its profits depend on financially gouging state governments, violating the dignity and rights of prisoners and employees, and opposing any reforms that would improve the criminal justice system. A contract with CoreCivic ties Montana’s financial future to mass incarceration.”
During the 2017 special legislative session, CoreCivic leveraged a budget crisis to demand a contract extension from the governor’s office. After pushback from the ACLU of Montana and other advocacy groups, it appeared that Governor Bullock might reject the contract extension and instead find other ways to fill a looming budget gap.
“It is extremely disappointing that CoreCivic’s contract will be extended. It is even more disheartening that Governor Bullock extended the contract just long enough to absolve himself of any responsibility to decide what will happen the next time the contract is about to expire. CoreCivic has been sued for their abuse of prisoners. The ACLU of Montana continues to receive complaints about the facility on a weekly basis,” said SK Rossi, Director of Advocacy and Policy. “I hope the Governor will do everything in his power to support further criminal justice reforms during the next legislative session and that Crossroads will be obsolete by the time he leaves office in 2020.”
While the Governor recognizes that private prisons are not ideal and, in his comments to the press on Wednesday, voiced support for further criminal justice reforms, he did not specify what he will prioritize during his last two years in office. Montana needs more mental health and addiction providers, shorter probation and parole terms, and better services for Indigenous people reintegrating into communities. The ACLU of Montana hopes the Governor will be our partner in ushering these reforms through the 2019 legislative session.
Caitlin Borgmann (ACLU of Montana Executive Director) and SK Rossi (Advocacy and Policy Director) are available for interview.