A debate over private prisons in Montana came to a head this week after Governor Steve Bullock ended negotiations with CoreCivic, which runs a private prison in Shelby. Core Civic was hoping to extend its lease and delay the date the state can choose to buy out the prison.  Montana Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen says the Governor is making an ideological, rather than an economical, decision.

"There's no question, the Governor and his office and, frankly, the Governor's base, the hard-left fringe of the Democrat party, they hate private prisons," Knudsen said. "Why that is, I couldn't tell you... it's an ideological thing and I'm not sure why a state-run prison is somehow more holy. Frankly, as a legislator I have to look at the dollars and cents of this thing, I mean, we have to make this thing balance out with the state budget."

Although the current negotiations may be over, Knudsen predicts this will continue to be a big political issue.

"What we can do is not appropriate money to purchase that prison and I can tell you, that is exactly what will happen next legislative session," Knudsen said. "There are still going to be Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate, I don't thing there is any reasonable chance of that changing, and I can tell you there is not going to be any appetite from a Republican House or Senate caucus to purchase another prison, especially when we get a better bang for our buck having it run privately."

The state has been storing up funds to buy the prison for over a decade, and currently has accrued over 35 million dollars, which would go back to the state to deal with budget issues if a deal were made. Knudsen says the state-run prison in Deerlodge costs around $120 per prisoner, per day -significantly more than the $75.50 rate that CoreCivic was asking for in the negotiations. Knudsen ridiculed the Governor’s math on the issue calling the numbers “massaged” and “garbage.”

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