Nicole Girten

(Daily Montanan) People who are incarcerated at the Montana State Prison have heat again after a system breakdown last week left 51 inmates without it, according to a Department of Corrections press release late Wednesday.

The heat went out on Friday, leaving inmates in the low-security side of the prison without heat for five days.

Montana DOC pointed to this incident as an example of why the facility needs infrastructure improvements. The maintenance team at the prison had to order a new part and bring in a contract plumber to fix a 25-year-old boiler at issue, according to the release.

Staff provided the 51 affected inmates with extra blankets, clothing, and space heaters, as well as coffee and hot chocolate, in the days waiting for the system to be fixed, according to the release. The coldest it got in the five days prisoners didn’t have heat in Deer Lodge was -5 degrees on Friday and also on Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

“We’re relieved to have everything back up and running properly,” Montana Department of Corrections Director Brian Gootkin said in the release. “But this incident emphasized the dire need for the infrastructure improvements approved by the 2023 Montana Legislature.”

Gootkin said in the release the low-security unit was built in the 1970s and is slated to be replaced with $211 million in funds appropriated for improvements at the facility.

“After decades of deferring maintenance and kicking the can down the road, MSP has fallen into disrepair that threatens officer and inmate safety,” Gootkin said. “This most recent incident just shows that the longer we wait to invest in critical infrastructure, the greater the risk that something can go wrong.”

Architect DLR and contractor Sletten Construction were recently selected to complete building projects at the facility, including the replacement of the low-security housing, according to the release.

The Montana DOC has been meeting with the Department of Administration’s Architecture and Engineering Division, the architect, and the contractor over the past month, and the group plans to have a construction timeline developed by December 2023, spokesperson for the Montana DOC Carolynn Stocker said in an email Thursday.