Safety for the employees and inmates at the Montana State Prison (MSP) is one of Warden Jim Salmonsen’s top priorities. So, when 2020 brought some much-needed technology updates to MSP, like new radios, Salmonsen was thrilled.
“I’m excited that the radios are here, and I’ll be more excited when we get them programmed and into staff hands,” he said.
Thanks to money from the 2020 CARES Act and the Montana Department of Corrections (DOC) budget, the department’s secure facilities will see several new technology updates in 2021.
MSP, the Montana Women’s Prison (MWP) and Pine Hills Correctional Facility (PHCF) will all receive new radios, purchased for $1.78 million from the DOC’s budget. Additionally, with $1.58 million in CARES Acts funds, the DOC purchased several other items to improve the health and safety of all staff and inmates at its facilities. The DOC’s three secure facilities will get four body scanners, four mail scanners to keep staff safe when checking incoming mail, a laundry scanner at Montana Correctional Enterprises, cameras, and a digital fingerprinting machine at PHCF.
“These new technology improvements will help ensure the health and safety of all inmates and staff members at the DOC’s secured facilities as we confront the pandemic and beyond,” said DOC Director Brian Gootkin. “Body scanners, mail scanners and laundry scanners, for example, limit the amount of physical contact necessary to detect contraband. We’re very excited that some of these updates are already in place or rolling out this year.”
The new Motorola 800 megahertz radios have a life expectancy of 10 years, and MSP’s previous radios were 12-year-old analogs. The radios are at MSP, and staff members are preparing to distribute them to the facility’s employees.
In the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) and Secure Adjustment Unit (SAU), Salmonsen said the old radios sometimes struggled to transmit through the buildings' concrete and metal.
“The radios are going to be a safety improvement so our staff can be in communication with each other and not worry about their radios malfunctioning,” he said. “This is a newer technology, and this brings us up to a more modern technology that will be more useful and help with safety and security.”
Another update to the facility is the implementation of two full-body scanners. One scanner will be used to screen MSP visitors, and the second is for screening inmates returning from the work and reentry center. MSP began using the scanner for inmates in the middle of January. MWP and PHCF will each get one body scanner for incoming visitors.
The scanners, which are like the scanners used for screenings at airports, will allow DOC officers to ensure no illegal substances enter any of the department’s facilities. These scanners will also allow staff members at the facilities to have less physical contact with inmates and visitors, which protects everyone’s health.
The DOC's two eastern Montana facilities, the Montana Women’s Prison in Billings, and the Pine Hills Correctional Facility in Miles City, are also receiving much of the same equipment.
"The new equipment we received has made the environment at Pine Hills safer for staff and residents," said Steve Ray, the Pine Hills superintendent. "We’re extremely appreciative as everything we have asked for or needed to keep us safe during the pandemic we have received.”