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Warden Cites Poor Staffing in Inmate Abuse Report

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DEER LODGE -

The Montana State Prison Warden says he is implementing staff changes and adding new positions.

This, after learning his facility has one of the highest rates of inmate-on-inmate abuse and sexual misconduct by staff in the nation.

The high rates of sexual abuse were reported in a survey from the U.S. Department of Justice administered to 191 anonymous inmates at the prison in 2011.

"The inmates were totally anonymous. We can't respond to these allegations because we don't know who they were. We don't know if there is any validity to them. It's very difficult to definitively tell people, "Yes, this did happen" and "No, this did not happen," said Warden Leroy Kirkegard.

It's a survey administered every two years as part of the "Prison Rape Elimination Act" of 2003-- also known as PREA.

The report found 9% of MSP inmates said they had been sexually victimized by other inmates and almost 10% reported sexual misconduct by staff.

"During the time frame of the survey, we had several complaints against staff for clothed body searches. Inmates were complaining about that. We believe that's where the high number came from for the staff misconduct. It was centered around pat down searches," Kirkegard said.

The survey data was collected six months prior to Warden Leroy Kirkegard taking over the position.

Since his arrival, the warden has added multiple jobs including a state PREA coordinator and a prison PREA specialist.

"That person is now responsible for not only all of the MSP policies, but he is going to be focusing on the PREA incidents, keeping track of the PREA statistics, the number of substantiated claims, unsubstantiated claims, and unfounded claims."

The warden says other factors play into survey as well,  including a lack of staff.

There are currently 53 vacant detention officer positions at the facility, a year ago the number was at 35.

"We can't compete with other state agencies. We can't compete with local agencies with a starting wage of $12.57."

Kirkegard has lobbied the state for an increase in wages in an attempt to recruit and retain correctional officers, but that request was denied in the last budget.

Warden Kirkegard and Department of Corrections Director Mike Batista each gave their testimony in front of a DOJ review panel Wednesday through a video conference.

The next survey is expected to be conducted in 2015.

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