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Montana Correctional Enterprises (MCE)

What is Montana Correctional Enterprises?

Montana Correctional Enterprises, commonly known as MCE, is one of seven divisions of the Montana Department of Corrections. Its primary responsibility is to provide vocational education and real-life work experience through numerous training programs for inmates.

How long have these programs operated?

Although the Montana State Prison ranch has been in existence since the early 1950s, the vocational education and industries programs did not begin until the early 1980s. During the next 20 years, programs were added – as necessary and deemed economically feasible – to meet the needs of the growing inmate population and to stay abreast of technology advances and economic conditions.

What kinds of programs are managed by MCE?

MCE offers training and work program experience in print and sign manufacturing, furniture and license-plate manufacturing (including graphic design), auto and heavy equipment mechanics, dairy milking and processing, commissary operations, range cattle operations, crop production, commercial laundry, lumber processing, garment manufacturing and embroidery, food processing, computer programming and office operations, wildland firefighting. MCE also offers post-secondary education classes and inmate reentry services.

Where are MCE programs located?

MCE has work programs located at Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge and Montana Women's Prison in Billings and educational programs in those two state-run facilities, Crossroads Correctional Center in Shelby and Dawson County Regional Prison in Glendive.

What is the purpose of the programs managed by MCE?

The programs are designed to give inmates the opportunity to learn a work ethic, to take pride in a job well done and to develop marketable job skills that can help them when they are released from prison. Research indicates that inmates who find employment within one month from release are less likely to return to prison.

What are the largest programs operated by MCE?

The two largest programs are in the agricultural field: the beef cattle ranch and dairy farm. Inmates working in these programs have the opportunity to learn how to operate a wide range of farm and ranch equipment, herd management techniques, computerized dairy milking processes, veterinary assistant duties and how to process raw milk into finished dairy products such as cottage cheese; low-fat, skim and whole milk; ice cream; and yogurt.

What measurable impact do the programs have on offenders?

The most measurable impact on offenders is whether they successfully transition back to their communities and remain out of prison. The latest DOC recidivism study indicates that inmates who work for MCE for one year or longer are 25 percent less likely to return to prison than those not participating in the programs. Inmates not involved in MCE work programs recidivate at a 38.4 percent rate, whereas inmates working for one year or longer in an MCE program recidivate at a rate of 29 percent. Based on the annual cost of incarcerating an offender, lower recidivism rates result in a substantial savings to Montana taxpayers.

How many inmates are involved in the programs?

About 425 male and female inmates are involved in vocational education or work programs.

What are the criteria for getting a job in an MCE program?

Inmates are carefully screened for the jobs. They must have the proper facility classification for the work program for which they apply. For example, inmates who work in the high-security laundry will have a high- or medium-security classification, and inmates who work in a program outside the secure fence – such as the ranch, dairy or lumber processing – must have a minimum-security classification. All classification is based on an objective system that takes into account an inmate's crime, sentence length, time served and institutional behavior. In addition to their classification, inmates must retain clear conduct and good housing evaluations to be eligible to participate.

How many employees does MCE have and what do they do?

MCE employs over 80 civilian staff as vocational-education teachers or work program supervisors. Teachers and supervisors all work together to teach inmates work ethics and specific job skills, and they provide facility security in their respective areas during the workday. Many MCE staff members also are involved with facilitating reentry classes in the evenings, in addition to their regular duties.

Where do inmates working in MCE programs live?

Depending on the training program, inmates working for MCE may live in any of the housing units at the four facilities. In addition, more than 150 inmates working in MCE programs outside of Montana State Prison live in the Work and Reentry Center, which is located outside the secure perimeter of the prison. Most inmates living in the center are classified minimum security and are within three years of parole eligibility or discharge. The center also houses a small number of longer-term inmates approved for this living assignment.

What do inmates get paid for their work?

Inmate students involved in vocational education receive an average stipend of $1.26 per day. Workers may be paid on a daily or hourly scale, depending on the type of work program. Programs inside the secure compound, such as industries, license-plate factory and laundry have an average salary of 50 cents a day. Programs located outside the secure compound such as ranch, dairy and lumber processing pay an average $5.50 a day.

What do inmates do with the money they are paid?

Inmates may use their inmate pay for commissary items such as hygiene, personal clothing or snacks. Many inmates are required to pay court-ordered victim restitution, fines, or child support. These obligations are deducted from an inmate's pay prior to the money being applied to their inmate account to be used for personal use.

Do taxpayers support MCE programs?

MCE has an annual budget of $14.5 million and the majority of this budget (90 percent) is self-supporting. MCE programs operate as enterprise funds, which means that – similar to private businesses – revenues from the operations must cover expenditures. The only programs not self-supporting are vocational-education program and the salaries for staff involved in the inmate commissary.

Who buys the products produced in MCE programs?

Industry products manufactured by MCE can be purchased directly by government agencies, school districts and non-profit organizations. The general public can purchase products through a network of dealers and limited contracts. Agricultural products are sold on the open market. Beef cattle may be purchased by in-state buyers, but must be shipped out-of-state at the time the sale commences.

Do the MCE programs differ from those in other state prison systems?

Although Montana's prison population is very small in comparison to those in many states, the majority of our training programs are similar to those offered throughout the United States. MCE has found benefits from its relatively small operations, particularly the ability to know the civilian staff and inmates better. The inmate population and the state as a whole benefit from the ability of the MCE staff to spend time individually with inmates to help them learn, plan for the future, secure post-release employment and listen to concerns that may otherwise inhibit a successful transition to the community.

What else does MCE do to help inmates prepare for leaving prison?

The MCE reentry program assists inmates in transitioning to the community by working with the prisons, prerelease centers, parole officers and other community partners. The program helps inmates obtain the needed documentation to begin a life on the outside such as a state identification card, birth certificate and Social Security card. Driver coordinators give both written and practical driver tests to inmates so they can obtain driver licenses prior to release. The coordinators assist inmates in contacting judges and counties to clear fines and revocations on their driver's licenses.

Without MCE work programs, what would inmates holding MCE jobs do with their time?

MCE programs are an integral part of a secure facility's seamless security and management of the day-to-day populations. Without the programs, facilities would be required to hire additional security or programming staff, at a significant cost to taxpayers, to provide some type of training or recreational program for offenders to alleviate the problems associated with inmate idleness. In addition, the benefits of learning a specific job skill and work ethic may not be achieved, increasing the likelihood of inmates returning to prison and higher costs of incarceration.