Legislative committee seeks audit of Shelby prison

By The Associated Press | Posted - Jun. 30, 2014 at 11:51 a.m.

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HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A legislative panel is seeking a performance audit of the Crossroads Correctional Center in Shelby to make sure the privately run prison is complying with its state contract.

The Law and Justice Interim Committee also voted Friday to draft a bill for the 2015 session, allowing lawmakers to decide whether they should order a legislative study on continuing its contract with Corrections Corp. of America when it expires in 2019, Lee Newspapers of Montana reported.

Sen. Larry Jent, D-Bozeman, said he doesn't think privately run, for-profit prisons are a good idea and the Legislature should examine whether to continue the practice.

CCA built and operates the 550-inmate Crossroads prison under a $12 million annual contract with the state. It opened in 1999.

In April, Sen. Terry Murphy, R-Cardwell, suggested asking the FBI to investigate the prison after the Tennessee-based company settled a lawsuit in Idaho that alleged a CCA-operated prison was understaffed and allowed excessive violence among inmates. The FBI is now investigating the Idaho prison.

The interim committee initially voted to draft a letter asking the FBI to investigate, but on Friday decided to pursue the "performance audit" by the Legislative Audit Division.

Another legislative committee also would have to approve the audit.

Several people told the interim committee that the panel should look into the management of the Shelby prison.

Former prison counselor Patricia Swan-Smith said inmates with mental illness were not given proper treatment or medication, staff mistreated inmates and complaints were not investigated.

Lita Pepion, whose son is an inmate at Shelby, said he has been on the waiting list for two years for certain programs.

Lane Blair, managing director of operations for CCA, said if employees don't get a response from local prison officials, they can make anonymous complaints to headquarters and they will be investigated.

CCA is proud of its operation in Shelby and is willing to answer questions, Blair said.

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