Montana League Criminal Justice Study

Montana League Criminal Justice Study

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Photo above shows League of Women Voters Billings members preparing to register ex-inmates to vote.  

League of Women Voter Montana Criminal Justice Study

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.  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 "crime" 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.
Below is the background on the study, the consensus questions and proposed position changes for discussion by local Leagues, the results of the research done by the Study Team through interviews with key Montana stakeholders, and a summary of positions from other Leagues in other states.
Additional study materials can be found here: 
Background on Study:  

The LWV Montana voted at its 2018 Convention to do a review and Study of its position on Criminal Justice.  Several members who have contact with Montana’s criminal justice system were concerned at the apparent disparity in justice between those with resources to pay for representation, fines and fees, restitution and treatment costs and those who didn’t. 

 The last time the LWV Montana reviewed and updated its Criminal Justice position was in 2002.  Montana’s Criminal Justice System has undergone major changes since then.   Of most significance is the growing impact of substance abuse, as indicated by the following data from the 2017 Justice Reinvestment Report: 

 Drug-related arrests have increased dramatically. Between FY2009 and FY2015, total drug arrests went up 62 percent in Montana and accounted for 53 percent of the increase in total arrests.

 The state’s jail population has increased significantly. Montana’s statewide jail population rose 67 percent between 2011 and 2013.  In addition, the average length of stay in Montana jails was 21 days as compared to the regional average of 18 days.

 Data from the Montana Department of Corrections corroborates the central role substance abuse and mental illness play in Montana’s jails and prisons.  Based on the data and League original research interview responses, the LWV Montana Criminal Justice Study Team decided to focus this study on those aspects of the criminal justice system that relate to substance abuse and mental illness. 

 In 2014, Montana was selected as one of very few states through a vigorous application process to work with the Council of State Governments and the Pew Research Institute on Justice Reinvestment reform in criminal justice systems in state governments.  The resulting report and sweeping passage of legislation in the 2017 Montana legislature may well be the most significant structural change in Montana law since the 1972 Montana Constitution.  It will take 10 to 20 years for this structural change to work its way through the system. 

 Below is a link to a summary prepared by the LWV Montana study team of the Montana Justice Reinvestment initiative and a summary of implentation of the initiative including legislation that has been passed in the 2017 and 2019 sessions that addresses substance abuse and mental illness in the Montana’s criminal justice system:  

PDF iconmontana_justice_reinvestment_program_summary_and_implementation_.pdf

 The full Montana Justice Reinvestment Report that was released in January, 2017 can be found here:

 Additional background materials can be found here:

 Consensus Questions and Proposed Position Changes can be found here:

Interview Research Results – Summary of findings from League interview research with 29 key informants identified can be found here:  
Other Leagues’ Positions – summary of what other Leagues have adopted concerning criminal justice, drug abuse and mental illness
can be found here: