Hardin, Montana, wants to take in Guantanamo prisoners

Published 28 May 2009

Hardin, Montana (pop. 4,300) had a problem: it invested $27 million in a 464-bed modern prison facility which is standing empty; the city council offered to use it to house Guantanamo prisoners; Montana’s congressional delegation objects

Hardin, Montana, is a small town (population 4,300), and as is the case with many other small towns in America, it is hurting for jobs these days. It also has a surplus of prime real estate, assuming that anything other than buffalo steaks can be called prime in the microscopic hamlet in southeastern Montana.

Jack Rogers writes in Business Facilities that the hard times are evident everywhere you look. Downtown Hardin, not a bustling city center even in good times, is quieter than ever. The Dollar Store reportedly is going out of business and the Mini Mall soon will be shuttered. A few blocks away, a new $27-million detention facility also sits empty.

A few years ago, when they floated some bonds to build the Two Rivers Regional Correctional Facility, Hardin’s city fathers hoped the prison would generate employment opportunities beyond the handful of guards. Short-order cooks would be engaged to feed the staff and inmates, and a couple of locksmiths would be on call to keep the latches working, and more.

It didn’t work out that way. The facility has yet to house any prisoners, even though it was ready to receive them two years ago.

The 464-bed prison has surveillance cameras, a magnetometer, and dozens of orange prison jump suits in a storage room filled with shoes, towels, blankets, razors, and underwear. It also has a generous supply of riot helmets, gas masks, batons, shields, and guns for guards. There are no prisoners, though.

This is when the leaders of the down decided to improvise. When they caught wind of the debate in Washington over President Obama’s decision to close Guantanamo, Greg Smith, Hardin’s economic development administrator, decided to act. He announced to Hardin’s city council that he had come up with an idea that could solve everybody’s problem.

He suggested that Hardin take all of the detainees in Guantanamo and bring them to the prison in Hardin. ”It would bring jobs. Believe it or not, it would even bring hope and opportunity,” he later told CNN.

Smith told CNN that the cells could be modified to keep detainees separated. He points out that because only terror detainees would be housed at Two Rivers, they could not radicalize run-of-the-mill felons. Smith also told CNN that a large dormitory room in the prison, now filled with empty bunk beds, could be converted into a mosque.

Hardin’s city council voted 5-0 to endorse the idea.

Montana’s congressional delegation, however, objected. The state’s two U.S. senators made it clear that Smith’s proposal is a non-starter. “Housing potential terrorists in Montana is not good for our state,” said Senator Max Baucus. ”These people stop at nothing. Their primary goal in life, and death, is to destroy America.” Senator Jon Tester also weighed in — ”I just don’t think it’s appropriate, that’s all. I don’t think they know what they’re asking for.”