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What is a prerelease center?

Prerelease centers are facilities in the communities designed to ease the transition of an offender from a correctional institution to living independently in the community while providing treatment, education, counseling, job training and placement, and transitional living opportunities.

Who operates prerelease centers?

Non-profit corporations under contract with the Department of Corrections. Contracts are awarded based on a competitive process.

Who goes to prerelease centers?

Offenders who a judge of the department determines do not need to go to prison, some offenders who violate conditions of their community placement and are approved for prerelease placement by the Board of Pardons and Parole, and those in need of a continued level of supervision following a treatment program.

Where are prerelease centers located?

Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Helena, Great Falls, Missoula.

How many offenders are in prerelease centers?

About 900 male and female offenders. Prerelease centers are 200-day programs, so they can handle about 1,600 offenders annually.

How much does a stay in a prerelease center cost?

Costs vary from center to center based their size and operating expenses, but the department has calculated the average cost. In fiscal year 2012, the daily cost averaged $64.25 per male offender and $52.47 for each female offender.

How are offenders chosen for a prerelease center?

Institutional probation and parole officers assess inmates about to leave prison, and traditional P&P officers do the same for offenders revoked for a violation of their community placement. Offenders committed to the department are assessed by their P&P officer and at the Missoula Assessment and Sanction Center or the START (Sanction, Treatment, Assessment, Revocation and Transition) center in Anaconda. In each case, the offender’s file is then sent to centers for review and a decision on acceptance.

What is a screening committee?

Each center has a screening committee that reviews offender information and decides whether the offender is appropriate for the local facility. A committee includes center staff members, city and/or county law enforcement officials, local probation and parole representatives and a community member. The committees have the final say on which offenders are accepted at the centers.

What do offenders do in a prerelease center?

They leave the center only for approved destinations, such as jobs. They are required to check in and out, and center staff monitors the offenders’ movements. The centers require offenders to find a job and each center has a full-time employment specialist that assists them in finding work. The centers provide assistance with resumes and job interviewing techniques, assess every offender coming into their program and develop a program to cater to each offender’s needs. Treatment, educational, vocational, parenting and counseling services, and classes in avoiding criminal thinking are provided.

Is placement in a prerelease center a “free ride?”

No. Offenders in prerelease centers are restricted in where they go and what they do. They are required to be accountable not only to themselves, but also to their victims, their community, the centers and the Department of Corrections. They help pay for costs of their stay, income taxes, child support and restitution to victims.

How do prerelease centers monitor offenders?

Case managers set up programs for the offenders and then ensure that the programs are completed. The case managers establish schedules for each offender and security staff members track if the offender is where he or she is supposed to be. The case managers talk with each offender’s employer and get regular progress reports on offenders’ work.

Do many offenders walk away from prerelease centers?

No. The centers had 30 escapes in 2009, 24 escapes in 2010 and 28 in 2011. Based on the number of offenders housed at the centers each year, that is an average escape rate of 3 percent. On average, 94 percent are captured and usually within a few days.

What happens when offenders walk away?

They are charged with felony escape and can face up to 10 years in prison. They forfeit all their personal property left at the center and will be ineligible for another prerelease center placement for three years after conviction. Centers are required to report the escape to the command post at Montana State Prison, local law enforcement and the news media. They distribute information about the offender and the department issues an arrest warrant.