Montana Corrections Plans DUI center at Eastmont; Building Will Need Security

BILLINGS (AP) -- The Montana State Department of Corrections is moving ahead with plans to turn a former center for the developmentally disabled in Glendive into a treatment program for adults convicted of felony drunken driving.

Officials expect the 40-bed, six-month treatment program to open in early 2005, more than a year after the state-run Eastmont Human Services Center closed.

Corrections officials outlined the program in March, after an earlier proposal to house a drug treatment program for convicted felons raised concerns among Glendive residents. The Eastmont campus is in a residential neighborhood.

``I feel the community, in general, is more comfortable with a DUI program,'' said Mike Ferriter, community corrections division administrator. However, he said, he's sure not everyone is completely at ease, noting the concerns some have about the potential for escapes.

Ferriter said Wednesday that community members would have a say in who enters the facility.

Offenders would have to be accepted by a screening panel, which would include local officials and law enforcement, residents and corrections staff, the department said. Women would have priority. If the program can't be filled with female DUI offenders, priority would then be given to male DUI offenders from 16 eastern Montana counties and then the rest of the state, the department said.

The program would be run by Community Counseling and Correctional Services Inc., Ferriter said. The department contracts with the company for a similar program at Warm Springs, and Ferriter said a contract for the Glendive facility is being negotiated.

He said the staff is expected to be from 20 to 23 people, including counselors, maintenance and security personnel.

Eastmont had been one of the bigger employers in Glendive. In 2003, lawmakers, faced with budget concerns, decided to close Eastmont and transfer authority to the department for a purpose it deemed appropriate.

Ferriter said there is a need for both adult felony DUI and shorter-term, 60-day drug treatment programs. In Montana, a fourth or subsequent drunken driving conviction is a felony.

Gary L. Gaub, who was part of a local working committee that looked at possible uses for Eastmont, believes there is less risk involved with the alcohol treatment program. Gaub said the department and community worked well to find a ``happy medium'' between the need for a facility to house a program for DUI offenders and residents' concerns.

Don Kettner, chairman of the local Economic Development Council, said Eastmont's closing had a ``tremendous negative impact'' on the eastern Montana community and that having the facility occupied and running would be an economic positive.

Some work still needs to be done at the facility, such as installing showers. Officials also plan soon to meet with a fencing contractor to determine the best way to fence the property, Ferriter said.

Ferriter said the agency wants to provide security without the obvious perception of a correctional facility.