By the CSG Justice Center Staff
Leaders from both parties joined Governor Steve Bullock on Wednesday, Nov. 18, to launch a comprehensive examination of Montana’s criminal justice system as the state faces a growing prison population and costly projections to expand capacity.
The governor, Senator Cynthia Wolken, and District Judge Ingrid Gustafson announced the start of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative in Montana, which will identify ways to reduce recidivism, curb corrections spending, and increase public safety in the state.
“A thorough examination of our criminal justice system is long overdue,” Governor Bullock said. “We must determine what is driving the growth in our prison population. We’re at a pivotal moment as our prison population nears capacity, and we must take a proactive and collaborative approach to establishing a more effective system that bolsters public safety.”
The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center will take a top-to-bottom look at the criminal justice system and will examine issues such as crime and arrest trends, supervision, and effectiveness of programs intended to reduce recidivism. The CSG Justice Center has released an overview that presents its initial findings regarding these and other issues in the state.
These findings show that despite a general decline in Montana’s crime and arrest rate in recent years, the state’s prison population climbed by 7 percent—from 2,373 to 2,537 people—from 2008 to 2014.
Along with the prison population growth, spending on corrections increased 16 percent from $157 million in 2008 to $182 million in 2014. In addition, the prison population currently exceeds capacity and is projected to reach 119 percent of existing capacity by 2025.
“We’re eager to get to work exploring potential changes in our criminal justice system and how we can reinvest in programs that are proven to work,” said Wolken, who sponsored Senate Bill 224, which established the state’s Commission on Sentencing, and chairs the commission.
The Commission on Sentencing and The CSG Justice Center will collaborate to conduct the system-wide review.
“We have to do something now before we’re on the hook for millions more in costs,” Senate President Debby Barrett said. “Once this review is completed, we’ll have a framework on how we can build on what we have, as well as save funds for the taxpayers and keep our citizens safe.”
Commission meetings will continue throughout 2016, and policy recommendations will be delivered to the legislature in 2017.