GREAT FALLS (AP)
One of the largest proposed budget increases heading into the 2007 legislative session is a 38 percent jump from two years ago in the Department of Correction’s budget. The state is asking taxpayers to spend an additional $97 million to keep convicted felons in treatment, out of trouble or behind bars. Part of the reason for the proposed increase is a $27 million shortfall in the 2007 fiscal year. There are 609 more offenders in the corrections system than was budgeted for, said corrections spokesman Bob Anez. These days, rather than longterm imprisonment, the agency is emphasizing treatment and rehabilitation, a philosophy supported by Gov. Brian Schweitzer and aimed at preventing crimes while cutting down on costs. Just over half of the Corrections Department’s $349.8 million budget is slated for community- based corrections such as adding pre-release beds, probation and parole officers and chemical dependency counselors. But start-up costs are pricey. While the agency’s primary concern this session is securing adequate funding to runs its programs, a number of lawmakers have introduced public safety legislation to fund the increasingly popular drug courts, strengthen sex offender laws and broaden the definition of child pornography. In 2005, lawmakers increased the state correction’s budget by 16 percent, adding an additional $35 million to the pot. That, however, was less than the agency requested and now state officials are back asking for the rest. A large portion of the governor’s proposed correction’s budget approximately 46 percent still directs money towards secure facilities, but the state is slowly moving away from routinely locking up offenders. Of the total $160.1 million proposed for the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge and Montana Women’s Prison in Billings, $21.5 million is slated for expanding the number of prison beds and $2.4 million to cover overtime costs. Statistics show it costs approximately $70 a day to house prison inmates and only $3.75 per day for offenders on probation. Of the total $349.8 million proposed corrections budget, $106.6 million or one out of every three dollars is directed toward community-based correctional programs.