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Native Sun News: Facility in Montana set to house Indian inmates

The following story was written and reported by Clara Caufield. All content © Native Sun News.

New Native American hires at Two Rivers; Zina Knows His Gun, Cheyenne; William Smells, Crow; Tristan Costa, Crow, Shandon Wallowing, Cheyenne, Jade Snell, Crow, Steve Archambault, Asssinboine, Ken Keller, Warden

New prison to house Natives from five-state area
By Clara Caufield

BUSBY, Mont.— When final federal paperwork is approved later this month, the Two Rivers Correctional/Treatment Facility -- located in Hardin adjacent to the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservations -- will soon accept Native inmates from across the Great Plains region.

The facility will provide short-term (no longer than two years) correctional housing and drug and alcohol treatment for over 400 low-medium risk inmates, primarily, but not exclusively Native Americans from a five-State region.

Two Rivers has already completed a contract with one North Dakota Tribe and is negotiating with several other Tribes, the B.I.A. and other jurisdictions to accept short term inmates. The facility was first financed by a bond issue in the city of Hardin in 2006, designed as a regional treatment/correctional facility for area Native Americans.

According to Jeff McDowell, Executive Director, the facility was vacant for several years, operated on a temporary basis in 2008 by a contractor that was unable to obtain contracts to house inmates. The 92,273 square foot facility was then vacant from initial completion in 2007 until May, 2014 when the Two Rivers Authority finalized a contract with Emerald Companies, a Louisiana based firm, which has operated as a contractor for inmate services since 1997 which provides a variety of correctional services on a national basis.

“The facility was designed as a regional correctional facility for Native American and local inmates,” said Jeff McDowell, Executive Director, Two Rivers, a private non-profit corporation for public benefit under the direction of a Hardin based non-Indian Board of Directors. ”We are very pleased to welcome Emerald Companies to our area to provide well-needed correctional housing and program support.”

New Two Rivers Warden, Ken Keller comes from an extensive correctional background: more than 25 years for the State of Wyoming Corrections and in law enforcement, including a stint as Warden of the Wyoming Honor Farm, located in Riverton. “We lived on the Arapaho and Shoshoni Reservation,” he explained “with many Native friends and I have had much experience with Native inmates.”

Emerald Companies finalized an agreement with Two Rivers on May 6, following several months of negotiations. Over 50 staff are on board preparing for start-up including transport services, kitchen staff, medical (R.Ns, LPNs, EMTS, local contracted MDs and I.H.S, program or treatment staff, administration, maintenance and correctional staff.

Warden Keller explained that many of the initial staff is Native American representing over six area Tribes. “We are committed to hiring and training Native Americans,” he said. When at full capacity (494 inmates, including men and women, segregated by ‘sight and sound’), staffing needs will increase on a corresponding basis.

Steve Archambault, new Two Rivers Correctional Staff supervisor, Assiniboine from the Fort Belknap Reservation commented: “I am very pleased be at Two Rivers because this facility will provide some help to the inmates. Previously working for the B.I.A., I was discouraged by seeing inmates just doing hard time with little or no supportive services. As correctional officers, we are here to help, but sometimes that idea gets lost. Here, I want to get back to that.”

The company offers competitive wages. New correctional officers, for example are paid $16/hour, roughly $32,000 per year and the company is committed to hiring Natives. However, Keller cautions that housing in the Hardin area is very limited, posing a challenge similar to the Bakken oil field. “That is why we are hoping to recruit local Natives from the Crow and Cheyenne Reservations who can commute and already have housing,” he noted. Interested applicants can apply online at

Emerald Companies offers a wide variety of services including: correctional services; healthcare systems; support and re-entry services. They currently have operations at Rolling Plains, Texas; LaSalle, Louisiana; Lincoln City, N.M., West Texas and now Two Rivers, Montana is their latest site. Key to the Two Rivers program will be the drug/alcohol treatment model utilized at the San Luis Regional Detention and Support Center, a B.I.A., a model pilot site, “committed to developing strategies tailored to addressing public safety issues and needs, tribal history and culture in Indian Country.”

According to the Two Rivers handbook the program “addresses the utilization of existing correctional facilities multi-purpose justice centers geared towards the provision of evidence-based programming and alternatives to incarceration that are culturally specific to individual Nations. Individual case management plans are stressed including a review of the traditional needs, such as health issues, mental health, chemical dependency and skills levels. A key mission for Emerald is to reduce recidivism by effectively preparing residents for their future.” Key components of the drug/alcohol treatment offered by Emerald include: Indian Alcohol and Substance Abuse: Talking Circles, Sweat Lodges, Cultural Mentoring, Cleansing; Peacemaking, Song/chant Mentoring and Clan Kinship; The Aztec Learning System Program; Education/GED; A new Direction, cognitive behavioral Treatment Curriculum; Cultural Awareness and Religious Programs.

Warden Keller noted that the geographic location of the facility will enhance opportunities for family visitation, including a video conference room where inmates can participate in the video “Go to Meeting” visits. “Maintaining contact with family and local support is a key to successful re-entry.”

(Clara Caufield can be reached at

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