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Prerelease centers: a way for some to turn their lives around

Posted at 6:20 AM, Mar 27, 2023

HELENA — Montana works with some prisoners to slowly reintegrate them into the community, a process that can not only provide them with some money and connections, but with meaning and purpose.

“It’s important to realize that you have meaning, that you have a place in this world. And it’s definitely opened my eyes to realize like, 'Hey, I belong somewhere,’” says prerelease participant, Christopher Francisco.

Montana is home to 10 prerelease centers, 4 for women and 6 for men. These centers provide an alternative to incarceration. Some in prerelease centers are exiting rehabilitation programs or are from the prison system.

The centers themselves provide a middle ground before fully reintegrating with society. They provide community connections through jobs, volunteer opportunities, schooling, and support groups. Participants are required to stay sober and pay their way through the prerelease program.

“This helps them with treatment, with a job that they hopefully keep, with some money in their pocket, a place to live. They’ve reconnected with their family. They have mental health set up out in the community. They have CD set up in the community. They have self helps AA, NA, whatever they so choose. Maybe a church-based group, something like that, so they are connected within that community,” says Program Director at Helena Prerelease Center, Devin McGee.

Bradley Bahner has been at the Helena Prerelease Center for 10 months and has a release date of June 2. He holds down two jobs and is going to college online for social work. He says he wants to give back to the community by working with kids in crisis.

“I’m 53 years old and I’ve got a lot of experience, you know. And I’d just like to help people and give back to the community and become part of the community that I wasn’t, that I’ve always been, you know, like on the outside,” says Bahner.

Bahner says that without the prerelease center, he wouldn’t be in the same place he’s at now.

“If I would have got out and just went right back to my same way of living, I would have just not made any progress. But coming here and getting a job and getting settled and everything is a tremendous help,” says Bahner.

Greg Branson, manager at Kolar Tire off Highway 287, works with the center to hire on workers. He says that hiring prerelease participants helped keep their business afloat during Covid.

“Got even busier during Covid but the amount of employees we had left me with two or three people when we opened up in the mornings. So, being able to work with some of the leads at the prerelease center to open up a pool of qualified applicants has really benefited us being able to keep our doors open,” says Branson.

Those in the prerelease center worked for 82 different places of employment throughout the Helena area in 2022. The vast majority worked in restaurants or food establishments and construction. While others worked in hotels, motels, landscaping, automotive, and more. Between July 1st of 2021 and June 30th of 2022, people in the local prerelease center contributed 130,000 work hours to the Helena area economy.

Branson at Kolar Tire made it clear to me that he’s a firm believer in second chances.

“And we have always believed in second chances. People make mistakes, but, you know, they’re, the ones that we do hire really want to make a better output for themselves and the community that they’re in,” says Branson.