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May 30, 2009

The prison economy and the war on terror meet in Montana

The AP has this fascinating new piece, headlined "Montana town offers to take Guantanamo prisoners," which highlights how the prison economy can provide a different perspective on the war on terror.  Here are excerpts:

On Capitol Hill, politicians are dead-set against transferring some of the world's most feared terrorists from Guantanamo to prisons on U.S. soil.  But at City Hall in this impoverished town on the Northern Plains, the attitude is: Bring 'em on.

Hardin, a dusty town of 3,400 people so desperate that it built a $27 million jail a couple of years ago in the vain hope it would be a moneymaker, is offering to house hundreds of Gitmo detainees at the empty, never-used institution.

The medium-security jail was conceived as a holding facility for drunks and other scofflaws, but town leaders said it could be fortified with a couple of guard towers and some more concertina wire.  Apart from that, it is a turnkey operation, fully outfitted with everything from cafeteria trays and sweatsocks to 88 surveillance cameras.

"Holy smokes — the amount of soldiers and attorneys it would bring here would be unbelievable," Clint Carleton said as he surveyed his mostly empty restaurant, Three Brothers Pizza. "I'm a lot more worried about some sex offender walking my streets than a guy that's a world-class terrorist. He's not going to escape, pop into the IGA (supermarket), grab a six-pack and go sit in the park."

After Hardin's six-member council passed a resolution last month in favor of taking the Guantanamo detainees, Montana's congressional delegation was quick to pledge it would never happen....

The jail's No. 1 promoter, Greg Smith, executive director of Hardin's economic development agency, said the Two Rivers Detention Center could easily be retrofitted to increase security.  And while the town hasn't had its own police force since the 1970s, Smith said the jail's well-armed neighbors would constitute an "unofficial redneck patrol."...

Hardin — situated about an hour's drive from Billings on the edge of the Crow Indian Reservation, not far from the Little Bighorn, where Custer made his last stand — is beset with high unemployment and a poverty rate double the national average.  It built the 464-bed jail on spec — that is, with no contracts lined up ahead of time to take prisoners.  Attempts to bring offenders, out-of-state criminals and federal inmates to Hardin have all failed, and the bonds issued to pay for construction are now in default.

Some prison agencies, including the Montana Corrections Department, have said the jail does not meet their design and security standards, in part because of its dormitory-style rooms and lack of an exercise yard.  Others said they had no need for the jail or selected a competing proposal.

Inside its concrete walls, orange jumpsuits, rubber sandals and stacks of white tube socks weigh down the shelves of the storeroom.  Computers, phones and video monitors line the tables in the control room.  In the cafeteria, stacks of plastic trays and cooking utensils wait to be put to use. Mayor Ron Adams said the jail could generate up to $300,000 a year for Hardin's coffers if it were to open.  That is about 20 percent of the town's annual budget. It would also create more than 100 jobs.

May 30, 2009 at 08:00 AM | Permalink

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Comments

If they do bring them there then they should add bathroom bidet sprayers to all the toilets. The Muslims prefer them (one of the few things they do have right) and it will save them allot of money of toilet paper. Available at; www.bathroomsprayers.com.

Posted by: Peter | May 31, 2009 11:45:30 AM

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