Justice Reinvestment in Montana

In June 2015, the CSG Justice Center embarked on a Justice Reinvestment approach in Montana to help state leaders identify and address the most pressing criminal justice system challenges.

In 2015, Montana’s prisons were at capacity due to an 11-percent increase in the prison population between FY2008 and FY2015. The prison population was 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 were 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 in 2015 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.

We have an obligation to Montanans to operate an effective criminal justice system that strives to rehabilitate offenders. Relying primarily on incarceration as a method for stamping out recidivism is the least effective and most expensive course of action. The justice reinvestment process in Montana resulted in bipartisan agreement on policy changes that will increase public safety while saving tens of millions of dollars.
Montana Governor Steve Bullock