Governor Steve Bullock today held ceremonial signings to highlight legislation to reform Montana’s criminal justice. The suite of justice reinvestment bills implement evidence-based practices and ensure that decisions are data driven throughout the criminal justice system.
“Today we celebrate bipartisan, data-driven approaches to reforming Montana’s criminal justice system,” said Governor Bullock. “Through innovative and sensible solutions, we will save taxpayers money, improve outcomes for offenders, keep Montana communities safe, and provide more treatment options to address underlying mental health and substance abuse disorders.”
Senator Cynthia Wolken of Missoula, chair of the Montana Commission on Sentencing and sponsor of eight of the ten bills, joined Governor Bullock, the Montana Department of Corrections, and the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center in discussing the importance of the reforms during a press conference at the Montana State Capitol.
“It was an incredible honor to be involved in a comprehensive review effort with a broad group of stakeholders and fellow legislators,” said Senator Wolken. “These smart pieces of legislation give us the opportunity to use resources more effectively and ensure the successful reentry of offenders into society and the workforce.”
In November 2015, the Montana Commission on Sentencing began working with the CSG Justice Center to use a data-driven justice reinvestment approach to address prison overcrowding, high recidivism, and the growing impact of substance use on people in the state’s criminal justice system.
An analysis of Montana’s system revealed that without action, the state’s prison population was projected to increase 14 percent by 2023. This growth would have required spending tens of millions of dollars to cover the cost of additional contract beds and up to hundreds of millions of dollars to construct and operate new prison facilities. Total spending on corrections has already increased by 16 percent since 2008 and now tops $180 million annually.
Under the new policies, Montana will avoid spending an additional $69 million over the next six years to increase prison capacity.
“After 30 years working in the federal probation system, I’m convinced that focusing our actions on evidence-based practices and on outcomes is the right direction to take to improve public safety,” Montana Department of Corrections Director Reg Michael said. “With the Governor’s Office and the legislature behind these criminal justice reinvestment principles, we have an opportunity in Montana to make progress across the entire criminal justice system, and that’s exciting.”
The CSG Justice Center will continue working with Montana in the coming months to provide technical assistance with the implementation of this legislative package. The justice reinvestment process was initiated in June 2015, when leaders from all three branches of government requested intensive technical assistance from the CSG Justice Center with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. Twenty-six other states have successfully used the justice reinvestment approach to date, including Idaho, Texas and West Virginia.