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HARDIN - Sex offenders tend to be pretty tame inmates, corrections officials said during a public meeting Wednesday night about bringing that inmate population to the jail here.

Two Rivers Authority hosted the meeting to give information and take comment about its efforts to obtain a state contract to provide sex-offender treatment in the unopened jail it built in Hardin.

The 2007 Legislature created and funded the treatment program, which will provide secure treatment for low-level male sexual offenders who have been convicted and are serving time in Deer Lodge. Two Rivers is the only entity seeking the contract.

"Sex-offender treatment is not to make sex offenders feel better," said Tom Tobin, chief executive officer of Sharper Future, the California company that would provide the treatment program. "Its purpose is to do whatever we can do to stop these men who have committed a sexual offense from ever committing another one."

Least-likely re-offenders

Most sex-crime convicts, especially the low-level offenders who would come to Hardin, are not the "monsters" that are featured in high-profile media cases, Tobin told about 40 people at the meeting in the Hardin Middle School Auditorium.

"The first flash that comes to mind, the first image, the first surge of emotion is not an accurate (depiction) of the real people," Tobin said.

The state Department of Corrections' 10-year contract is for 118 beds for Levels 1 and 2 male sex offenders. The state classifies offenders on the likelihood of their re-offending, and Levels 1 and 2 are the least likely to do so. The program calls for providing six to nine months of treatment.

Resident Sam Dauer asked how successful treatment is. Tobin answered that the success rate is really based on failures, when convicts re-offend.

Research shows that on average the success rate is about 40 percent, Tobin said. Apply that number to a major medical condition, such as curing cancer, and 40 percent would be "fantastic," Tobin said. It's a good number for sex-offender treatment, too, but "we want to do better," Tobin said.

Lodge Grass resident Ellis Murdock asked if people who were inmates in Hardin would likely live here after their release. Peter Argeropulos, senior vice president of Community Education Centers, the company contracted to operate the jail, said that's not likely.

Inmates would not be released into Hardin but sent back to the state to be reclassified and transition into community life or returned to where they were convicted.

They won't see anything but the jail while they are in Hardin, he said.

"They're not going to be in the community, they're not going to experience life in the community of Hardin, during the six to nine months they're here," Argeropulos said.

Employment opportunities

Most of the other questions were about employment. Two Rivers, the city of Hardin's economic development arm, built the jail as a way to stimulate the economy by creating jobs.

The contract would employ about 81 people and requires paying prevailing state wage, Two Rivers Executive Director Greg Smith said. Each offender would have a caseworker and counselor, or one staff member for about eight inmates.

The clinical staff would include 30 to 35 clinical therapists. Those jobs - about 12 of which require licensure and certification under the state's requirements - would be filled starting with a local search and expanding to national, Argeropulos said. There would be about that many jobs for custody and administrative support staff, which could likely be all local hires.

In September 2007, Two Rivers had around 70 people ready to take jobs. About half of them are still ready to work at the facility, Argeropulos said. Two Rivers Warden Larry Johns said all of those people are from Big Horn County.

The state will score Two Rivers' proposal soon. Following scoring, the state may ask Two Rivers to provide more information, and then negotiations for the contract would start, said Bob Anez, spokesman for the Montana Department of Corrections. It is likely a decision on the contract would not occur until after the new year, he said.

Revenue needed

Two Rivers Regional Detention Center was completed last year but has remained empty pending a lawsuit over its ability to hold prisoners from out of state. A judge determined the facility could take those prisoners, but Two Rivers has yet to secure a contract with another state.

The sex-offender contract would fill about a third of the facility.

The jail needs enough revenue to pay back its debt and cover operating costs, Argeropulos said.

The facility was built using revenue bonds and is in default and repaying its bond debt out of a reserve fund. Once it starts making revenue, the jail will have to repay its bond and replenish the reserve fund.

Argeropulos said there has been interest in the jail from the U.S. Marshal's Service in Wyoming and a county in Idaho. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has also shown interest, he said.

Seeking federal contract

Two Rivers is also seeking a federal Bureau of Prisons contract. A team inspected the facility this summer and rated it highly, Argeropulos said. A federal decision on the first cut of potential contractors is expected in late December or January, he said.

The contract, called Criminal Alien Requirement, would house low-level offenders, who are convicted male illegal aliens, for up to a year. There are already eight facilities around the country with this type of contract, Argeropulos said. The contract requires a facility with 1,000 beds but guarantees filling the space to 90 percent capacity, he said.

The jail was built to hold 450 inmates and is designed so it can be doubled.

The federal contract starts with a four-year commitment and includes the option for three, two-year renewals. It would create about 260 jobs and requires paying federal wage for this area, which is $18 for corrections officers, Johns said.

If Two Rivers were to be offered both contracts, officials would have to decide which to pursue, Argeropulos said.

"It would be a nice problem to have," he said.

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