Lindsay Beyerstein in Vice:
There’s a converted three-story hotel on the industrial south side of Billings, Montana. It’s next to a large funeral home and down the street from the Montana Women’s Prison. From the outside, it looks like a nursing home, painted pink and beige, with a semi-circular driveway, and blue sign bearing the vague name “Passages.” The vibe is therapeutic but definitely not optional. It’s a place without barbed wire or armed guards, but not a place you can just leave.
The building is home to Passages, one of eight privately-owned pre-release facilities in Montana and one of only two exclusively for women. Like all pre-release centers, Passages is owned by a non-profit corporation that operates under contract to the Montana Department of Corrections (DOC). Pre-release centers are a fixture of Montana’s correctional system, and they are also used in other states including Massachusetts, Maryland, and South Carolina, as well as throughout the federal prison system.
When I approach the reception desk, I am asked to surrender my ID, “in case there’s a fire in the building.” The bright hall carpet and the breakfast bar on the ground floor are reminders of the building’s past as a Howard Johnson’s. A sign warns that escape is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.