In Montana, a justice reinvestment approach produced a comprehensive package of legislation that will reserve prison space for people who pose the greatest risk to public safety, alleviate jail overcrowding, and help ensure communities are safer. This publication presents a full summary of the justice reinvestment process and legislation.
Montana’s prisons are at capacity due to an 11-percent increase in the prison population between FY2008 and FY2015. The prison population is projected to continue to grow 13 percent by FY2023, requiring at least $51 million in new spending. Additionally, the statewide jail population rose 69 percent between 2011 and 2013 and many jails are over capacity.
To address these challenges, Governor Steve Bullock, Chief Justice Mike McGrath, Attorney General Tim Fox, Senate President Debby Barrett, Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen, House Minority Leader and Legislative Council President Chuck Hunter, Senate Minority Leader Jon Sesso, and Montana Department of Corrections (DOC) Director Mike Batista requested intensive technical assistance from The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center to use a Justice Reinvestment approach to assist the state with developing data-driven policy options designed to reduce the prison population, contain corrections spending, and reinvest in strategies that can reduce recidivism and increase public safety.
The Montana Commission on Sentencing—which includes commissioners from all three branches of government, policymakers, and other stakeholders—met multiple times between September 2015 and October 2016 to review analyses and develop policy options that will ease capacity issues and reduce recidivism. Of 12 bills recommended by the Commission on Sentencing, Montana enacted nine pieces of legislation. Senate Bills 59, 60, 62, 63, 64, 65, 67, and Senate Resolution 3, sponsored by Senator Cynthia Wolken, and House Bill 133, sponsored by Representative Nate McConnell, codify the justice reinvestment policy framework developed by the Commission on Sentencing.
Signed into law in the spring of 2017 by Governor Steve Bullock, these policies limit the period of incarceration for people sanctioned for low-level violations of the terms of their supervision, prioritize supervision resources for people who are most likely to reoffend, and help counties reduce jail populations. By adopting these policies, the state will avert at least $69 million in spending on contract beds and supervision staff and hundreds of millions more that would have been necessary to build new correctional facilities between FY2018 and FY2023. Montana will be able to reinvest those savings in strategies designed to reduce recidivism and increase public safety.
The legislature appropriated $2.97 million dollars as an up-front reinvestment to develop a pretrial grant program, hire additional supervision officers to conduct presentence investigations, transition the parole board to full-time members, and develop a supportive housing grant program. The CSG Justice Center provided implementation assistance by offering guidance and training to transition the parole board from a part-time volunteer board to a full-time professional board. Additionally, CSG Justice Center staff provided the DOC with guidance and training to incorporate a risk and need assessment into presentence investigations, develop a behavior management system to address incentives and sanctions, and create a program evaluation process. As of February 2019, revocations to prison have fallen 18 percent, while the supervision population grew almost 7 percent during the same year, and an increasing number of people are completing supervision successfully.
The final report of the CSG Justice Center outlines a comprehensive series of policy recommendations developed in collaboration with the Montana Commission on Sentencing.
The fourth presentation to the Montana Commission on Sentencing focuses on a review of data analyses and proposed policy options.