MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer BOULDER
Gov. Brian Schweitzer toured a meth treatment center Wednesday that he says is a critical part of a cost-saving plan to reduce the state prison population. Schweitzer touted the push toward "community corrections," led by treatment programs for drug addicts and those with mental illness, as a better way to keep costs down. He said spiraling prison costs were one of the biggest problems he faced when taking office. Schweitzer said addicts simply sent to prison are much more likely to go back to drugs when released and much more likely to end up in prison again. "I wanted to find a new way, a new approach," he told about 40 women at the Elkhorn Treatment Center in Boulder. A recent study found Montana prison population decreased nearly 4 percent last year, the biggest drop among the states. Many of the women at the Boulder treatment center would be in prison were it not for the new facility, officials said. The governor said new methods that place people in treatment centers and in the probation system should save money and reduce the number of repeat offenders. "I want you to be successful," Schweitzer told the women. "We will give you the tools to be successful. In the process we will decrease the cost of corrections for the rest of Montana." In 2006, 3,572 Montanans were in a prison. At the beginning of 2008 that number had gone down to 3,431, the governor's office said. The women's treatment center opened in 2007, and houses 40 female offenders with meth addictions. They spend nine months in treatment, followed by six months in a prerelease center before being released to the probation system. There is a similar 80-bed methamphetamine treatment center for men in Lewistown, and a 40-bed drunken-driving treatment center in Glendive. Montana Corrections Director Mike Ferriter said the new system is the realization of a vision to change the way the state handled inmates.