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Although Montana’s crime rate has been leveling off or decreasing, there were nearly 20,000 thefts (excluding vehicles) reported in 2010 along with over 3,600 burglaries. As of June 30, 2012, 12,759 offenders were under some form of punitive restriction with the Montana Department of Corrections (MDOC).
Twenty percent, or 2,545, of these individuals were in prison, providing jobs for correctional officers in the state. In 2012, 1140 correctional officers in Montana supervised incarcerated individuals. The prison population in Montana is expected to slowly increase over the next several years, and nationally the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the need for correctional officers will increase 5%.
Becoming a Correctional Officer in Montana
The requirements for those who seek careers as correction officers with the state of Montana include having at least a high school diploma or GED equivalent. Most of the six state-run correctional facilities in Montana require that the applicants are capable of lifting at least 20 pounds. Before selection, a background check is required.
New employees of the MDOC learn how to become correctional officers through taking the four week Correction/Detention Officer Basic Course that is offered several times a year. Corrections officers must obtain this training with the first year after being hired. A substantial amount of online training is also provided.
This training entails learning about human behavior, along with corrections/detentions operations and skills. Although they are not routinely armed, corrections officials in Montana are also required to receive training in handling firearms. They must qualify annually on their ability to use these weapons.
The Montana Reentry Initiative
The MDOC spends about 44% of its $177 million plus budget on secure custody: taking care of incarcerated offenders. Correctional officers ensure that the institutions are run safely for the prisoners and the public. They help inmates receive treatment and work towards rehabilitation.
Each year about 1,200 inmates are released from prison in Montana. The goal of the MDOC is for these offenders to return to society as productive members who are no longer involved in crime. In 2009, nearly 40% of the men released from prison in Montana had returned to prison over the course of three years following their release. This figure was slightly under 35% for females in the state.
With the goal of creating a safer Montana, the MDOC launched an effort to expand its offering of programs and services designed to improve the likelihood of success for inmates to renter society. The Montana Reentry Initiative was launched with a task force in 2011 to increase the coordination of efforts of correctional officers with those of community partners and other government agencies.
These efforts are focused on the inmates most likely to return to prison. As soon as they enter prison, correctional officers focus on ensuring that the inmates are taking part in the programs designed to help prevent them from reoffending. This includes educational programs and learning job skills.
Correctional Enterprises in Montana
To provide offenders with the skills needed to succeed when they return to society, the Montana Correctional Enterprises (MCE) operates 22 business operations. They do so within six programs that are mostly headquartered near the prison at Deer Lodge. They include:
- Food factory
- License plate production
- Vocational education
The benefits of this program include helping the inmates to develop a strong work ethic and marketable skills.
Corrections Officer Salary in Montana
It was reported by the Department of Labor that the median corrections officer salary in Montana during 2012 was $32,930, which was an average of $15.83 per hour. The median among corrections officers in the top ten percent, however, was 22% more at $42,590.
The statewide average was slightly higher than the median at $33,190, representing an hourly wage of $15.96.
In Great Falls, in particular, correctional officers were given a starting salary of $26,145.60, which gradually increased with time and experience thereafter.
Here are some of the correctional officer salaries throughout Montana’s major cities as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Billings, Montana Corrections Officer Job Description
The violent crime rate in Billings is slightly greater than that in the rest of Montana. In particular, the rate of rape is higher than the national average. Yellowstone County reported over 50,000 crimes between 1999 and 2008.
To deal with this level of crime, there are two correctional facilities in Billings that offer jobs for correctional officers, along with a program that is an alternative to placement in jai:
- Yellowstone County Detention Center
- Montana Women’s Prison
- Beta Jail Alternatives Supervision
How to Become a Correctional Officer in Billings
Education – Correctional officer jobs with both the Montana Department of Corrections (MDOC) and Yellowstone County require a high school education—either a diploma or a GED. Additional requirements include having a through knowledge of human behavior and self defense techniques, along with a good knowledge of first aid and CPR.
Training – Newly hired officers with Yellowstone County learn how to become correctional officers at first through six weeks of on the job training. This involves shadowing existing correctional officers as they perform their tasks.
Within the first year of their careers, correctional officers for the county attend the Correction/Detention Officers Basic (CDOB) training at the Montana Law Enforcement Academy (MLEA) in Helena. This 120 hours of training includes many topics, among them:
- Legal issues
- Pressure point control tactics
- Use of restraints
The Montana Women’s Prison
This prison is comprised of about 265 women from throughout Montana and has a staff of approximately 90 people. Over 90% of the offenders are involved in programs that are vocational, educational, and therapeutic designed to help them reenter society as law-abiding, productive citizens.
Educational opportunities include the chance to get a GED and to take college courses, along with various vocational educational programs. The Montana Women’s Prison offers a number of notable programs that help train the women for their release.
The Prison Paws for Humanity program started in 2004. Inmates train dogs for 30 days, so they learn basic commands. As of April 2013, 34 women were enrolled in the program. After their release, a number of the participants have gone on to obtain jobs working with dogs.
A joint program with Montana State University called “New Path, New Life” involves mentoring and training prisoners. Courses that are available include medical transcription. The prison also promotes the development of skills in parenting.
The Billings community has a Reentry Task Force—the first in Montana—that addresses problems that offenders face in trying to rejoin society.
Deer Lodge, Montana Corrections Officer Job Description
Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge holds one out of ten of the male inmates in the state. As of fiscal year 2012, 1,469 men were incarcerated at this complex. The prison holds inmates of six custody levels: minimum I and II, medium I and II, close, and max.
The most common reason that men were incarcerated in Montana in July 2012 was assault, followed closely by burglary. A large number of staff members are required to manage the population of nearly 1,500 offenders at Montana State Prison, and 407 uniformed staff worked there in 2014. This included 344 correctional officers.
These correctional officers are highly trained professionals who help to operate correctional programs that emphasize the following goals:
- Staff professionalism and responsibility
- Offender accountability and rehabilitation
- Public safety
- Efficient use of taxpayer money
By ensuring a safe environment within Montana State Prison, these correctional officers make it possible for the prison to offer the rehabilitative programs that enhance the chance of offenders succeeding in society after they leave this facility.
Becoming a Correctional Officer in Deer Lodge
Montana State Prison periodically offers a career orientation and tour to those interested in correctional officer jobs there. Passing a criminal history check is required to take part in this orientation, and to ultimately qualify for open correctional officer jobs.
Corrections officers at Montana State Prison are employees of the Montana Department of Corrections. This department requires that prospective correctional officers have at least a high school education. Having a college degree in a field such as criminal justice should enhance the applicant’s standing in the hiring process.
Once correctional officers have been hired, they are trained both online and through the Correction/Detention Officer Basic Course. This course is offered several times a year, and correctional officers must complete it within their first year on the job. The course includes the following topics:
- Corrections operations and skills
- Human behavior
- The use of firearms
Corrections officers must qualify annually to use firearms.
Health Care at Montana State Prison
Prisoners tend to be in much worse health than their contemporaries in the general population, and Montana State Prison house most of the state’s inmates with significant medical and mental health problems. Over 150 inmates a day there receive health care from a staff of about 70 health care professionals.
Montana State Prison was recognized nationally for its quality of inmate health care. In 2011, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care provided accreditation to its infirmary.
The Department of Corrections spent 64% of all of its medical and treatment funds at Montana State Prison in 2012. The population of male inmates in Montana is aging with the number of inmates sixty years old or greater having doubled between 2008 and 2012. This trend is expected to increase the costs of providing health care to inmates.
Missoula, Montana Corrections Officer Job Description
Approximately 90 detention officers work for the Missoula County Detention Facility (MCDF), which holds almost 400 prisoners. It resembles a small town with a clinic, commissary, banking, churches, courts, library, and school.
This new facility opened in 1999 to replace an overcrowded facility on the courthouse annex and has three components:
- A county jail that holds men and women
- A long-term juvenile detention center
- A state regional prison
In years past, most of the inmates had been arrested for serious crimes. This situation has changed in recent years, and now most of the inmates have committed minor offenses.
The MCDF also holds prisoners for a number of law enforcement agencies, including the following:
- Missoula Police Department
- University of Montana Police
- Montana Highway Patrol
- US Marshals Service
Becoming a Correctional Officer at the Missoula County Detention Facility
Qualifying – Corrections officers in Missoula are known as detention officers and work for Missoula County. A college degree is not required to obtain these positions, unless the officers will be working with juveniles. Both classes of correctional officers must have completed their high school education.
Missoula County maintains the following additional minimum qualifications for those interested in becoming correctional officers:
- Being a U.S. citizen
- Being at least 18 years old
- Having a valid driver’s license
Testing – Before being able to apply, applicants must have taken Montana Job Service “Prove It” tests within the past six months. They need to submit the results of the following basic tests:
- Computer literacy
- Reading comprehension
Applicants that look promising then take a written test. Once they have been offered employment, these applicants must pass a physical examination and a thorough background check. This includes checks of both criminal history and driving records.
Training – Once they have been hired, new correctional officers undergo academy training at the Montana Law Enforcement Academy (MLEA). They must take the four week course known as the Correction/Detention Officer Basic Course within a year of having been hired. This course is offered 5-6 times a year.
Trainees learn the essential functions to ensure the security and safety of inmates and other people in the custody of the MCDF by studying the following areas:
- Human behavior
In addition, new employees must be certified in CRP and first aid. They must also pass a course on weaponless defensive tactics.