- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

MILES CITY, Mont. (AP) - The state plans to fill some unused beds at the Pine Hills Youth Correctional Facility with non-violent young adults who face prison time, the Department of Corrections said.

“If we can keep these young offenders away from career criminals … and give them a better chance to grow up into responsible adults, we can have a positive impact,” said agency director Mike Batista. “Sending them to a separate facility protects them from potential manipulation and abuse by older inmates.”

The facility has 120 available beds, but as of late last week housed just 37 boys sentenced there by Youth Courts around the state, Pine Hills Superintendent Steve Ray told the Miles City Star (http://bit.ly/1OeEcpD ).

Judges are sending fewer juvenile offenders to institutions and instead are sentencing them to community treatment programs, Ray said.

State lawmakers were looking at the empty beds and considering cutting funding and staff or changing the institution’s primary focus, he said.

Recent studies have indicated that brains, especially in males, are not fully mature until age 25. Difficulty with impulse control and long-term planning are the same with 19-year-olds as with 16-year-olds, and both can benefit from the counseling, education and work skills training program offered at Pine Hills, Ray said.

Pine Hills officials toured a juvenile program in Minnesota that also treats young adults, Ray said. They made some facility modifications at Pine Hills to keep the juveniles apart from the young adults, converted a maintenance building into a shop, and are now looking at applications from two or three young offenders.

The young adults accepted to Pine Hills cannot be violent or sexual offenders and able to benefit from the services offered at Pine Hills. Vocational training will now include auto shop, wood shop and welding training along with the culinary arts program.

Once the staff adapts its program to slightly older offenders, they will slowly expand the program, Ray said.

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Information from: Miles City Star, http://www.milescitystar.com

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