Criminal Justice System

Criminal Justice System

To protect society from criminal behaviors, while providing services to enable prisoners to become law-abiding citizens, and ensure equal and fair procedural justice for all regardless of age, gender, race, color, creed, or financial status.
Position In Brief: 

To protect society from criminal behaviors, while providing services to enable prisoners to become law-abiding citizens.   To ensure equal and fair procedural justice for all regardless of age, gender, race, color, creed, or financial status.

Position History: 

In 1968, the League began a study of the State prison and explored the possibility of establishing pre-release and work-furlough programs for the old, overcrowded state prison.  The League concluded these programs would aid in socialization and rehabilitation. A position supporting these, in addition to counseling and education programs, and a new state prison was adopted at the 1971 League Convention.

A Criminal Justice System study in 1975-77 reviewed not only the prison, but also city and county jails.  This study centered on a number of progressive concepts in penology.  Some of these concepts were incorporated into the 1977 League position.

The new prison facility, completed in 1976, was also soon overcrowded, and Montana lost its contract to house women prisoners out-of-state.  In 1979 the Legislature voted funds to build space for women at the men’s prison complex.  But, this was not done.  Women prisoners were housed for thirteen years in a renovated warehouse at Warm Springs.

In 1991 funds were allocated for a 120-bed women’s prison, but instead the State purchased the 46-bed Rivendell facility in Billings.  At the same time the State established plans for community-based Department of Corrections programs.  The move to Billings for women prisoners was made September 28, 1994.

In 1999, the Montana League agreed that “women’s issues” should be studied and addressed as part of the Criminal Justice position, and the focus should be on children of incarcerated parents in order to break the intergenerational cycle of crime and dysfunctional families.  In 2001 the League adopted a separate position on the Women’s Prison.  In 2002 the League coordinated the two positions into this inclusive Criminal Justice System Position.

At the 2019 LWV Montana convention, delegates approved a review and study of the League's position on Criminal Justice.  The study team approached over 60 individuals for interviews, and got 29 interviews back.  One of these “interviews” was held at the annual meeting of Jail Commanders and included comments from over 15 local and county jail commanders.  The overwhelming commonality in the interviews was the impact that addiction and mental illness are having on our criminal justice system, which is new since the League last looked at Criminal Justice in 2002.  The Study Team decided to limit the study at this time on this aspect of our criminal justice system, including two areas of focus:

1.  how to prevent or "divert" those whose primary cause of incarceration is addiction and mental illness from being incarcerated by providing appropriate treatment instead;

2.  how to assist these individuals upon release successfully build new lives and not end up incarcerated again.

Language was added throughout the existing position to reflect the League’s consensus on how to address these two concerns and was approved at the 2020 annual membership meeting.  


The Montana League of Women Voters believes the State of Montana should take a new direction with corrections especially regarding women and families.  Of great significance and concern is our overall finding that there is a need to move in the direction of parent-child reunification in cases of formerly custodial caregiving parents.  There is a related need to distinguish between “violent” and “non-violent” in classifications of women based on a realistic threat to society.

In general:

1.       The pre-sentence investigation required by Montana law should include the defendant’s immediate family situation, including specific information on whether or not the defendant is the custodial caregiving parent of a child under 18years of age and, if so, the age of the child and the defendant’s plans for care of the child during incarceration.  A trained advocate should be assigned to each child to represent her/him at all procedures related to her/his welfare. 

Judges should set bail and conditions of release fairly, taking into account the specific circumstances of each offender.  One way to achieve this is to use a screening tool that is neutral.  Alternatives to bail may include use of the appearance ticket and conditional or supervised release.

 LWV believes Montana should incorporate mental health and substance abuse diversion processes to minimize incarceration of individuals with mental health and substance abuse disorders.

LWV endorses the recommendations made in the document titled: Justice Reinvestment in Montana: Report to the Montana Commission on Sentencing, January 2017, and supports the evaluation of progress made towards accomplishing the goals outlined and the allocation of resources necessary to facilitate the full implementation of recommendations. 

2.       The State should not automatically sever parental rights if the parent is incarcerated for more than a year.

3.       Mandatory life sentences, rather than capital punishment, should be considered when sentencing violent offenders.

 4.       A continuum of state-wide, community-based options, which provide for probation, halfway houses, deferred sentences, electronic monitoring, substance abuse and mental health treatment services and restitution to victims, etc., should be available to judges and should be considered as alternative sentencing, especially in cases involving youth, non-violent and first offenders, and mothers of young children.

 5.       When planning to build or remodel  prisons and jails, consideration should be made for the classification of the inmate population.

During incarceration:

1.       The state prisons are appropriate placement for criminals requiring tight security.

2.       Placement in local jails should be used only for those requiring temporary incarceration.

3.       Family Services (DPHHS) and the Department of Corrections should coordinate with each other and with other agencies such as the Montana Veterans Administration Health Care System to provide quality counseling and education programs to enhance the prisoner’s successful return to society.  These voluntary programs should include education and vocational training, personal and family counseling and parenting classes, counseling to prevent victimization, and substance abuse treatment.  Measures of family reunification and recidivism should be included in evaluations of treatment and education programs for the inmates.  Dependence on grants to fund the parenting programs should be replaced by a state funded parenting program staffed by educationally qualified personnel.

4.       Provision should be made for regular communication between parent(s) and child(ren) in comfortable, quiet facilities.  When necessary, transportation, meals, and lodging should be provided.  Halfway houses should include appropriate facilities for children plus emphasis on family integration.

 5.       There should be opportunities to meet the spiritual needs of inmates.

6.       Montana needs separate and safe facilities for youth, first offenders, women, the habitually violent, sex offenders, and substance abuse offenders.

7.       Montana should provide equity in facilities and programming for state prison residents, regardless of age, sex, race, color, or creed.  The exception to equity should be to address the unique needs of (1) pregnant inmates with prenatal, obstetrical, postnatal and infant care provided, all commensurate with regular hospital care, and (2) formerly caregiving custodial parents, whose plans for rehabilitation should include family reunification, parenting and job training.

8.  There should be effective mental health and substance abuse treatment programs for inmates.

9.  There should be periodic and routine review of each prisoner by the rehabilitation and medical staff.

At exit/parole:

1.       The State should hire an adequate number of qualified probation andparole officers, some of whom are qualified in child counseling and the teaching of parenting skills.

2.       The Department of Corrections should consistently allow work and study furloughs and pre-release programs for all non-violent offenders, after screening by the professional rehabilitation staff of the Department of Corrections.

 3.       Programs for mental health and substance abuse treatment and education, and advice on vocational education, college opportunities and job skills should be easily accessible before release, during pre-release processing, and in subsequent stages of re-entry to society.


The League supports adequate provision by Montana state agencies in areas where local governments are unable to provide services.  Health and legal services, such as guardian ad litem programs, for children should be available.  Work/study programs are also considered invaluable.

The League recognizes the need for adequate funding and recommends the apportionment of money among the Criminal Justice System components to enable these recommendations and ensure that all are treated equally regardless of age, gender, race, color, creed, or financial ability.  A reduction in the number of people imprisoned through effective diversion and re-integration programs should permit reallocation of resources to help provide more effective substance abuse and mental health treatment services and equal procedural justice for all.  The League supports tracking the outcomes of services and interventions funded by the state of Montana. 





League to which this content belongs: 
Montana League of Women Voters